During the first half of the 20th century, a proliferation of resort hotels on Lake Manitou lured thousands of visitors to Fulton County to enjoy recreational amusements in the summer months and beyond. Some of the most popular entertainments were live music and dancing, and featured performances of nationally renowned bands and musicians who would play to packed houses of people who traveled miles to see them. The influx of crowds was a benefit to the downtown district of Rochester, where hotels saw brisk business, and created a welcome boost for merchants in the county’s main shopping area. Entertainment could be found downtown as well, at venues that included Earl Miller’s Moving Picture Palace, the My Show Theater, the Paramount, and the Rex Theaters. The most famous was the Char-Bell, which opened its doors in 1924, and transformed into The Times Theater, the enduring link between Rochester’s past and future as revitalization efforts work to reopen its currently inactive doors.
Shifting tastes and economic downturns would begin to affect Rochester like it did so many small towns in the Midwest starting in the 1970’s. Entertainment technology made staying home more affordable than going out, and businesses began to feel the pinch caused by dwindling crowds. Live music managed to hold on for as long as the club and bar scene would allow, and live theater and dance that had once found steady audiences receded from even their occasional forays into public performance. A handful of establishments have managed to keep the flame of live entertainment alive in Fulton County, and a new wave of aspiring impresarios are planning to help fan that flame to reestablish Rochester as an entertainment destination. In the following pages, meet the people behind the effort to reopen The Times Theater as a community arts space; learn how The Record Farm has been cultivating the seeds of downtown’s revival by bringing retail music and support for the arts back to Main Street; and discover some of the initiatives that the Downtown Partnership has inaugurated, and new ideas they hope to introduce to continue the revitalization of Rochester.