Our movie theatre needs help!

This tiny town of Morris, Minnesota has one single-screen theater that was built in the 1940s — it’s a classic and historic building, where I’ve spent many hours. Two of my kids worked there through high school and part of college. It has struggled a bit, though, and several years ago there was a worrisome struggle when the owner sold it, and one of the buyers intended to turn into a goddamned church. Morris has over 15 churches, but only one theater, so that would have been a wasteful catastrophe. Fortunately, it was instead bought up by a coalition of community members committed to preserving it, and it’s now a coop. I’m a member, and I’ve actually just volunteered to work in the theater maybe once a week, starting in January. Come on out some evening, maybe I’ll sell you some popcorn.

There is an exhibit on the history of the theatre opening at the county historical museum today, and there is a video about the community efforts.

One catch, though: movie distribution has changed, and it’s really tough to book for a single-screen theater anymore.

Our next great challenge: the movie business itself. Regrettably movie studios are becoming our enemy. Studios are insisting that even small single screen theatres, like ourselves, must keep first run movies for three weeks. This means no other movie can be shown on our one screen while the first run movie is in town, which is a significant problem because our audience drops off dramatically in subsequent weeks. To keep showing first run movies we need a smaller, second screen. This will allow us to move first run movies to the smaller screen after two weeks, and bring in a new movie on the big screen. We can also use the small screen for quirky films and special events while a first run film is showing on the main screen.

That necessary second screen is in the works. The room is there. There’s all kinds of carpentry going on. But it needs more money to finish the work and get the projection equipment — once we’ve gotten over that hurdle, we can achieve a major leap in revenues, which will allow further renovation. There is a GoFundMe to raise money to complete the second screen — donate if you love movies and classy old art deco theaters! And if you do donate, next time you’re in Morris I’ll take you to the movies, my treat.


  1. says

    <Pause Flounce |
    Contributed, because old movie houses are a big thing for me. Almost worth coming to Morris just to take you up on the offer of a treat. But I won’t put you through that. Peace.
    | \Pause Flounce>

  2. says

    That’s a worthwhile cause! It’s a beautiful building. I won’t be able to donate for a few days, but I definitely will.

  3. sherylyoung says

    We have a one screen theatre locally. –> http://www.crystaltheatrecarbondale.com/
    It’s privately owned but couldn’t make it without community help. Lots of donations or it couldn’t have gone digital.
    Maybe it’s got something of interest/assistance for y’all.
    In any case, I’m proud and wanted to share.

  4. gnokgnoh says

    I was a founding board member for our non-profit, single-screen, community theater in Jenkintown, PA.
    Hiway Theater. We raised money all sorts of ways, including asking community members to “buy” a seat. They received a little plaque on the arm rest with their name on it. We also received HUD, state, and county grant funds, but it was a very strenuous effort to seek out all the funding to renovate. Like Morris, our theater, which dates from 1913, was about to be bought and converted into retail.

  5. gnokgnoh says

    We generally gave up on first-run movies. In addition to the studios dictating how long you had to keep the film, they take a much higher percentage (was around 75%) of the box office revenue. We mostly show independent, foreign, and second-run movies. We have about 2,000 members, who pay from $60 to $120 per year for memberships, in exchange for discounted movie tickets. We also teamed up with three other art house cinemas in the Northern suburbs of Philadelphia to provide management. It saves a lot on costs.

  6. says

    Our theater couldn’t survive at all on independent, foreign, or second-run movies — we don’t have quite as many people here as in Jenkintown, and we have to draw in a diverse audience, which means we have to show the popular stuff. So The Passion of the Christ and God’s Not Dead are going to draw in bigger audiences than an art film.

    But one of the goals of putting in a micro-theater with a second screen is that we could then show an occasional off-the-wall movie with a limited, specialized audience.

  7. gnokgnoh says

    Where were you teaching, when you lived here? It was called the Chas III for many year as a for-profit, badly-run cinema. What street did you live on? Out town is tiny (4,500 people), but we’re surrounded by mega-suburbs, and the city line is about one mile south (you know all that!).

  8. says

    I’m surprised you can’t make it work showing second-run movies. The prints cost very little, and since most of the theater revenue is from concessions anyway, you can get butts to fill the seats by practically giving away the tickets.

    This is what the theater in the town I grew up in did, and it worked like magic. They were about to go under showing first-tun movies that no one showed up to, and then they went to second-run, sold tickets for $1, and they were packed all the time. Of course, the issue there was that people had a choice to go to a nearby town and see first-run movies in a much better theater.

  9. latsot says

    The one cinema in my childhood home town was closed down and made into a church (of which there were already more than plenty, one was directly opposite it on the other side of the road.

    This was decades ago. Sadly, no other cinema was ever opened and the church is still in business.

  10. gnokgnoh says

    Go bicycling in Alverthorpe all the time…just behind the Abington Arts Center. I’ve been reading and recommending you for years, never commented. Pharyngula is one of my top three. Thank you for all of your terrific writing and general obstreperousness! I just donated, too…

  11. jeffreyknapp62 says

  12. jeffreyknapp62 says

    This is the other main reason small theaters are shutting down – the conversion to digital is too expensive to be profitable as a single-screen venue or even a two or three-screen venue. Don’t skimp on this, people today want and expect high-quality picture and sound for the amount of money they are paying for movie tickets today. This is especially true with the big “tentpole” movies.