Raleigh’s Rialto Theater owner retires after 32 years

The Rialto Cinema in Raleigh.

The Rialto Cinema in Raleigh.


After more than 30 years of running one of the oldest independent cinemas in the Triangle, Bill Peebles is finally ready to retire.

Peebles on Monday confirmed plans to sell the Rialto Theater in Raleigh.

Once called the Colony Theatre, the historic Rialto has been a mainstay of entertainment on Glenwood Avenue since the 1970s. But”I made theater what it is today,” said Peebles, who took over the business in 1989, shortly after turning 30.

The historic Rialto building at 1620 Glenwood Avenue — built in 1935, according to property records — is not for sale. It belongs to Anne Stahel, whose family has owned the building for around a century.

But Peebles will sell the Rialto management rights to either “a person or a group of people who can make the theater work in the future,” he said.

Some potential local buyers have already expressed interest in the business, Peebles said, but he did not reveal who.

The marquee of the closed Rialto Theater on Glenwood Avenue displays a message during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina Saturday evening March 21, 2020. Scott Sharpe [email protected]

He is adamant, however, that whoever buys it must be someone who knows marketing, the movie industry, and live entertainment, rather than “wishful thinking.”

Peeble’s main hope is that the theater will be converted into a non-profit organization that would allow it to receive grants and remain open to the community to continue its programming: independent films, classic film screenings, live concerts, parties private parties, comedy shows and theater fairs. .

The timing of the transfer is still unclear and Peebles hasn’t disclosed his asking price.

His company, Ambassador Entertainment, owned several Triangle cinemas at one time. They included the Studio I and II theaters, which closed in 2000, and the Mission Valley Cinema, which closed in 2019.

Ambassador Entertainment also opened Lumina Theater in Chapel Hill in 2000 (which has new owners) and Six Forks Cinemas in 2003, which closed in 2020.

Say goodbye to the Rialto

The pandemic made it clear to Peebles that he couldn’t put off his retirement much longer.

“I’m not getting any younger,” he said.

An executive order from Governor Roy Cooper closed the theater for nine months in 2020, which Peebles still believes was a necessary decision.

But when the theater reopened in October 2020, “it wasn’t the same anymore”.

What is he most looking forward to in retirement? “Sit on the boat and watch the other boats go by with a cocktail in hand,” Peebles said.

An avid boater, he longs to sail the southern Atlantic coast, from the Carolinas to southern Florida.

His retirement is all about spending much-needed time with his family and friends — his retired friends who live near the beaches, in particular.

“I find myself saying, ‘You know, I’d like to hang out with you guys this weekend, but I have to get back to Raleigh,'” Peebles said.

The marquee of the closed Rialto Theater on Glenwood Avenue displays a message during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina Saturday evening March 21, 2020. Scott Sharpe [email protected]

Rialto’s loyal staff and loyal customers are the ones he will miss the most. Movie theaters typically change most or all of their staff every year, Peebles said. But the Rialto had staff who worked there for five to ten years.

On the eve of pandemic shutdowns, Raleighites rallied to save the theater, raising more than $35,000 on GoFundMe to support it.

One of Lori White’s cityscape paintings depicting the Rialto in Raleigh. White is a contemporary realist painter of landscapes and still lifes. Juli Leonard [email protected]

“We just had a huge weekend with ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’, hundreds of people on every show…and I’m like, ‘Oh my God…they’re gonna miss this so much. I’m gonna miss this “said Peebles.

Aaron Sánchez-Guerra is a breaking news reporter for The News & Observer and previously covered business and real estate for the newspaper. His experience includes reporting for WLRN Public Media in Miami and as a freelance journalist in Raleigh and Charlotte covering Latin American communities. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, a native Spanish speaker, and was born in Mexico. You can follow his work on Twitter at @aaronsguerra.

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