For the first time in the Paragon Theatre’s 114-year-history Merissa Craft has become the sole owner.
The building that stands proudly on the main street in Childers is wrapped with sentiment for Merissa as it has been in her family for 60 years.
The mother-of-three has fond memories of growing up, and now raising her own family, in the grand old building that she calls home.
“The owners have always been husband and wives with some being collaborations with other couples,” Merissa said.
“I, myself, have shared ownership with previous partners, and I am forever grateful for their contribution, but I was blessed to start 2022 with new beginnings as the sole owner.
“This is the first time in its history that an individual has owned it and I guess being a woman is a little special as I’m sure the previous owners over the years could never have imagined such a thing.
“For me though, it is life as normal as this old girl has been my love, and hate, since I was in my early twenties, and I have been running it for many years.”
Originally built by the Gee family and known as Gee’s Hall in 1908, it was converted to a theatre by that family in the late 1920s.
In the 100-plus year history of the Paragon Theatre, Merissa said only five families had owned the building, including her grandparents.
“The Paragon was converted into a theatre in 1927,” Merissa said.
“My grandparents and great-grandparents purchased it in 1962, and I purchased it from them in 2007.
“Up until the last film in 1998, it was the longest running cinema in Australia – operating continuously from 1927 to 1998.
“It was then closed for many years until 2014 when I restored it and reopened as an entertainment venue.”
Paragon a big part of Merissa's life
This year Merissa has sole ownership, and she reminisces about the building that helped sculpt her into the person she is today.
“I grew up in Childers and I remember when I was little, sneaking a look behind the curtain when my grandparents were screening Chucky, and I’ve never been able to watch the movie – I was too scared!” she said.
“I also had my first kiss in the back corner when I was 13, hiding from my brothers, cousins and my nonno who used to walk the isles with the torch – the joy of being the youngest and the only girl in a Sicilian family.
“Living on site has also provided many lovely memories for my three small children and me. Many birthdays and special occasions.
“It’s not a bad thing to have a theatre as a home.”
Merissa said the outbreak of COVID-19 had impacted the business.
“I know most, if not all small businesses, are feeling the same though,” she said.
“For the first time in a long time, I’m unsure of the future of The Paragon, but I am hopeful that with some changes to the business to adapt to a ’new normal’, we will be able to continue operating.
“The arts have been hit hard and it takes venues, performers and patrons to all come together to move forward, as one doesn’t work without the others.”
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