Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre in Goodfield had been a cornerstone of central Illinois for nearly 45 years, operating 47 weeks a year, averaging 200 attendees per show. Its customers weren’t just customers—they were family, celebrating special occasions with dinner and a show in the old Angus cattle barn that was converted to a dinner theater in the 1970s. Then, disaster hit. First natural (a tornado), then financial (insurance woes). Suddenly Mary Simon, owner of the original Barn, was faced with uncertainty. Fortunately, she shared her concerns with Abby Reel.
A native of Congerville, Reel grew up attending productions at the dinner theater. She recalls the first time her dad introduced her to Simon and Chaunce Conklin, the theater troupe’s cofounders. “Mary,” he said, “I’d like you to meet the next Mary Simon!” His words proved to be prophetic. From her first jobs in high school as a busser, waiter and actress at The Barn II, Reel now oversees the management and vision of the rebuilt venue.
In June 2017, Reel approached Simon with her idea to bring back The Barn, which was hit by severe storm damage in 2015. Together, and with the help of Bradley’s Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC), they initiated a fundraising campaign that raised more than $84,000. Undeterred by any challenges, Reel enlisted the help of family, friends and the community to launch this major construction project. She could often be found in jeans and a hard hat—or at the end of a rope erecting the walls of what is now The Barn III.
On February 7, 2019, The Barn III reopened to a packed house. Reel now serves as CEO, business manager and wedding coordinator, booking the shows, food and all the logistics associated with hosting special events. She also opened a dance studio and fitness center on nearby property, known as the Velocity Dance Center at the Studio @ the Shed.
The Barn III’s relationship with the SBDC began with Reel sharing her vision with director Kevin Evans in a counseling session. Over a period of months, the SBDC helped her develop financial projections, the overall business plan, and pitch preparation for investors. With their assistance, Reel’s vision came to life in a rather remarkable way. thebarniii.com PM