PORTAGE PARK — Patio Theater owner Demetri Kouvalis could not be happier the beaches are closed and the dog days of summer have been replaced with a chill in the air.
A broken air conditioning system closed the 86-year-old building to regular shows during the summer and prompted Kouvalis to rethink his plans for the theater his family has owned since 1987.
"Thank goodness it was a relatively cool summer," Kouvalis said.
Film lovers gulped free water and cooled off with several fans at summer screenings put on by the Northwest Chicago Film Society, which made the Patio its new home after the closure of the Portage Theater — despite its lack of air conditioning.
"It is a huge relief that it is fall," said Rebecca Hall, executive director of the film society, adding that it didn't see a significant decline is attendance at its screenings. "It really worked out better than anyone could have expected."
The film society found itself temporarily homeless after Portage Theater owner Eddie Carranza closed the theater at Six Corners as part of a dispute with Ald. John Arena (45th) over the theater's liquor license.
Hall praised Kouvalis for welcoming the film society to the Patio, 6008 W. Irving Park Road.
Kouvalis "really cares about film," Hall said. "You can tell his heart is really in it."
The film society is central to Kouvalis' new plan for the historic movie palace, which will no longer show second-run Hollywood films — the quality of which is "diminishing," Kouvalis said.
"The rules have changed to favor multiplexes," Kouvalis said. "It is almost impossible as a single-screen theater to make money with Hollywood films."
Instead, the theater will show classic films of its choosing, in addition to those shown by the Northwest Chicago Film Society. The theater also can be rented for special events such as parties or independent film premieres.
"So far, so good," Kouvalis said of the business plan. "We have most of September and October booked."
Between the broken air conditioning and dwindling attendance, the Patio "was very close to closing its doors for good," Kouvalis said.
Kouvalis still is working with city officials to obtain a Small Business Improvement Fund Grant to cover the cost of replacing the air conditioning system, which he expects will cost at least $40,000 to $50,000.
"We will have it up and running by next summer, for sure," Kouvalis said.
Kouvalis said the Patio has benefited from the closure of the Portage Theater.
"As the only historic theater on the Northwest Side, we're definitely picking up business," Kouvalis said.
In October, the theater and the film society will show horror and Halloween-themed movies, including a 24-hour massacre-themed extravaganza.
In December, the Patio will feature Christmas and family-friendly movies, Kouvalis said.
"We're going to be testing the water, and seeing what works for the neighborhood," Kouvalis said.
For the full schedule of movies at the Patio, go to patiotheater.net.
For the full schedule of the Northwest Chicago Film Society, go to northwestchicagofilmsociety.org.