The Historic Rialto Theatre Will Reopen This Summer

If you thought you had seen your last show at Raleigh’s historic Rialto—think again. Raising the curtain on the next chapter is Five Points Entertainment LLC—a group of community members who came together to save the theater, led by Raleigh native sports radio producer and host Hayes Permar, who grew up attending the storied space and has had his eye on it since the moment the news dropped that longtime beloved owner Bill Peebles was retiring.

“Raleigh owns the Rialto like Raleigh owns Char-Grill,” says Permar of the iconic theater. “Yes, it has an owner, but the smells, the sign… it’s all part of Raleigh.” … That actual owner is Stratford Properties LLC, managed by a longtime Raleigh resident Peebles since 1983, who selected Permar over a slew of would-be suitors and entered into a long-term lease with Permar May 8, which carries multiple options for extended renewals. 

“It will be a treat to drive down Glenwood to see the marquee ‘alive’ again,” says Ragsdale Liggett PLLC Partner Bob Ramseur, speaking on behalf of his client Stratford Properties, on the heels of the new lease.

Tuning into the relevance and the history of the space, Permar promises to not only honor its past, but carry it into the future with new and exciting programs that will only stand to build on its legacy. Slated to resume events this summer, the revived Rialto, beyond showing flicks, naturally, will also bring live music back to the theater—think, for one, a jazz or bluegrass series—with an upgraded sound system. 

“I am already working with Dave Rose of Deep South Entertainment about shows,” says Permar. For the podcast host himself, live podcasts are a likely play as well—“there are some traveling podcast shows that get a million listeners—certainly we can get 350 people to buy a ticket to listen live,” he says. “I could see us taping a Canes pregame podcast and then showing the game.” 

But the space will, in many ways, be the same—including seating. “We’re not changing drastically,” says Permar, “not pulling the seats out. I think a live music venue with seating will set us apart.” 

One significant and spirited change—a full bar, situated at the front of the venue that Permar hopes will draw people in for a hang on its own accord. “I like to think the Rialto lobby lounge will be a great place to hang out even if nothing is happening,” says Permar—“like a great bar with a really big TV screen!”

Beyond imbibing, Permar has no current plans for food beyond the usual, but hopes to link up with local restaurants and businesses. “I could see partnering with someone like my buddy Anthony [Guerra] at Oakwood Pizza Box and have pizza by the slice,” he says. Permar will also be inviting Rocky Horror Picture Show to return—“it’s three generations of talent that have made that special experience what it is”—and has huge plans for the holidays (stay tuned).

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says the legendary theater’s new landlord. “The owner has kept it the way it is [because of] what it is to the Five Points community. She and Bill both wanted to make sure the new operator was someone committed to keeping it going.”

And that commitment is exactly what landed Permar the responsibility of Rialto’s future. “Our client received an overwhelming number of inquiries regarding the space when Bill Peebles announced his retirement,” says Ramseur. “It was extremely important for our client to help preserve the character of the Five Points neighborhood, however—and Hayes brought us a proposal that most aligned with our vision for the space and the neighborhood. His proposal was intriguing in that his business model not only paid tribute to Raleigh, the cinema, entertainment, and the importance of community and neighborhood, but it incorporates exciting new elements that will make the Rialto one of the most unique destination venues in the Triangle area.”     

The news is also a boon for the block—and a big win for the neighborhood and OG Raleigh. “For the first time in I don’t know how long,” says Permar, “all four businesses on this block will be open: Lonerider Brewery, Uncle Jessie’s Honkytonk, Loop [coming soon] and the Rialto.” For a city changing at warp speed, it’s refreshing—even a relief—to see this block maintain its character and legacy in lieu of redevelopment.

Now, it’s time to get to work. “Rialto 101 started today,” joked Permar on the night the ink dried on the lease. “Bill is teaching me the knobs and dials. … He owns everything in the theater—everything from the art on the walls to the movie projector. He created a great foundation for 30 years. I have a lot to learn, but I’m so excited.”

Ramseur echoes the sentiment: “We believe Bill will be a great resource for Hayes as he starts his new venture, but he will not be involved in the new business.” … Clearly, a tutelage that will pay off for all of us for a long time.

And in terms of longevity: “We cannot comment on the specific terms of the deal, but, suffice it to say, it will be operating as the Rialto Theatre for a long time,” says Ramseur. “Our client is thrilled for Hayes and is excited that a Raleigh native will continue the tradition of the Rialto.  The Rialto has long been a haven for independent films and regional music, but, more importantly, it has been a longtime gathering space for our community. We are thrilled Hayes intends to pass that tradition on to future generations of Raleigh citizens.”    

For his part, Hayes is humbled… “I don’t know what it says [about me], but every person I’ve told what I’m doing with the Rialto has said, ‘you’re the perfect person to do this.’ … At almost every step along the way, I was sure it was the right decision,” he says. “I’m honored to move the theater into its next endeavor and lead it.”

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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.