The Scenic Theater in Lisbon, North Dakota, like many small-town theaters, was struggling with the high cost to convert from a film to digital format. Film had been an industry standard for more than a hundred years, but Hollywood studios will stop printing on actual film by the end of the year.
Established in 1911, the Scenic is the oldest, continually operating theater in the United States. Due to the digital upgrade, theater owners, Al and Betty Michels, were worried that it would be forced to go dark for the first time. To make the transition, all new equipment would have to be purchased and installed, which would cost close to $100,000. With this daunting number, the community rallied to help preserve the historic theater.
A group of seven local residents organized the Save Our Scenic (S.O.S.) campaign in April. In three months, they raised over $74,000. Donations came in from folks in 15 different states and over 300 local donors. All ages were involved in the fundraising efforts which included: a second grader selling eggs, donated babysitting money, barbeques, and an Elvis impersonator show.
Receiving over 30 letters of support, USDA Rural Development helped the campaign reach its goal by awarding the City of Lisbon a Rural Business Enterprise Grant. The equipment was then purchased by the City of Lisbon who will lease it at a nominal fee to the theater owners.
“Being 70 miles from the next closest theater, the Lisbon area certainly would have lost an entertainment focal point and a core business,” said Jasper Schneider, USDA Rural Development state director. “The community’s support and generosity really saved the Scenic.”
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