When you open the wide double doors of the Fun Barn and Movies 10 in Nelsonville, the use of the word “barn” begins to make sense the game kiosks are lined-up like horse stalls in a stable, straight back and side by side on the right-hand wall. In a corner on the left side lie the remains of a small yet impressive bumper kart rink nearby larger games like mini-bowling and Guitar Hero. The sizeable arcade and eatery composes the front of the building; the custom-built theater is located in back.
If you aren’t from around the area, you might be surprised to see the massive parking lot packed nearly every night. The place can be as busy as a big-city theater but at $4 a ticket, it’d be hard to mistake a trip to this place with a trip downtown. The snacks, popcorn, movie tickets and games are all notoriously inexpensive, making the Fun Barn a favorite hangout spot for community members of all ages and a go-to activity for Ohio University and Hocking College students.
The theater’s history starts with one man, Joe Edwards, and his desire to care for his family.
“That’s his main motivation: keep the family,” says his daughter, Sharon Elliott.
The Fun Barn is a family business. If the warm familiarity between the staff doesn’t make that clear, the large Jay Edwards campaign sign advertising the owner’s grandson might. Family comes first for the theater’s founder, and it has since the beginning.
“It was just up the road on Elmrock—it used to be 33—he built a block building,” Elliot says. “Me and my two brothers and mom and dad lived in the upstairs, very small quarters, and he had his business downstairs.”
At that time, Edwards worked as a TV repair man. Elliott remembers her father did everything he could to look out for them. Things weren’t always easy.
“I can remember hearing a knock on the door and he told us to all be quiet,” Elliott says. “There were bill collectors at the door. We were in there hiding.”
Young Edwards moved with his family from West Virginia to Ohio. Here, his father farmed for New York Coal Company, Inc. In the ’60s, his family had the opportunity to buy the farm, and the land has been in their name ever since.
The family grew corn and raised pigs, chickens and cattle. The land had four silos, three barns and a pond, and the young kids played on the property.
“It was a working farm,” Elliott says.
But Elliott says her dad “hated” farming. In the 1950s, Edwards left for the military. From there, she says he began working in telecommunications—the start of a new chapter.
In 1952, Edwards founded Nelsonville TV Cable, a business that started small and has persisted through the years, transforming with the digital times.
“When he first opened the cable company there were seven or eight of them,” Elliott says. “He whittled it down to just him.”
Today, Nelsonville TV Cable is one of just a few cable and internet providers in the county, and one of two providers who offer coverage to most of the area, next to AT&T U-verse.
Edwards had a knack for keeping his businesses running. Ultimately, though, the goal was to keep providing for his kids.
When Elliott was young, her father opened a single-screen drive-in theater. Due to legal restrictions, this first theater could only play one film at a time, for multiple days.
Edwards soon bought another business, a multi-screen Majestic chain theater, and started making plans for the future.
“When they had the Majestic, he’d take my kids on Saturdays and go to different movie theaters everywhere to look at tilling and, you know, just trying to design this place,” Elliott says.
The Movies 10 was Edwards’ brain child and after his father passed, leaving the farm behind, his plans to build a theater on the land began.
“He had this land and he wanted to find a way of making a living,” Elliott says.
Her father loves movies, and his decision to open the Movies 10 was the product of dedication and hard work.
“Everything here he built … He designed where it is, how it works,” Elliott says.
Though he hired contractors to do things like hang drywall and lay concrete, he designed everything himself. He drew the plans for the strips of lights that line the theater ceilings. He cut and stripped the wood to build the theater’s first screen himself.
Using his research from other theaters and his skills as an electrician, Edwards finished the Movies 10 in 1998. A couple of years later he added the Fun Barn.
“When he built the Fun Barn on, I said ‘Dad, there isn’t room,’” Elliott says.
But no amount of discouragement could stop the vision. Elliott says her father has always been “a little hungry.”
“He was always looking for a way of making money,” Elliott says. “Still is.”
After nearly 10 years, the Fun Barn has been a reliable money-maker for Edwards and his family. A big reason for the theater’s success may be the affordable prices.
“He had this theory: If you sell a hot dog at one price and sell a certain number, then if you lower the price, you’ll lower your profit margin a little, but you’ll sell more,” Elliott says.
By selling more at a lower price, Edwards figures he can continue to provide for his family and to provide a service for the community.
As a businessman, Edwards’ goals seem less focused on material wealth than those of others in his position.
“He doesn’t want to be a millionaire,” Elliott says. “He just wants to make a living.”
Edwards, 88, and his wife Betty, 79, spend every day at the Fun Barn. They work 10 to 12 hours, seven days a week, Elliott says. Her parents spend so much time at the theater, they may as well live there.
Edwards speaks in a voice like the scratchy energetic call of an umpire, sending a “Hello” or a “How are ya?” at every patron in his path—as if each new customer is a family friend.
“He could never be a CEO-type person because he has to be hands on,” Elliott says.
The strategy may not be exceptionally lucrative, but so far it seems to work.
“We’re not rolling in anything,” Elliott says. “But we’re okay. We’re okay.”