Minnesota theater owner fighting for small-town cinemas

A movie theater owner in Perham, Minnesota, is leading a national organization fighting to keep small-town screens from going dark.

Popcorn at Comet Theater in Perham, Minnesota.
Nick Broadway / WDAY-TV

PERHAM, Minn. — Inside the Comet Theater in Perham, neon lights glow by the Art Deco curtain walls of this single-screen cinema. The theater first opened in 1938.

"(There are) 24 seats up in the balcony here," described theater manager Matthew Quincer. "It's a beautiful auditorium. We were very fortunate."

It is a family-run business with Matthew managing Comet. His father, Dave Quincer, runs Quincer Amusement Corporation, the company that owns Comet and other lake area theaters.

But Dave does more than keep the books, he is in charge of the North Central chapter of the National Association of Theater Owners. It is often referred to as NATO, despite potential confusion with a separate intergovernmental military alliance.

He brought back the regional chapter of NATO in 1999, becoming its president about a year ago. Dave works with lawmakers and movie companies on making life easier for the small theaters. North Central NATO covers Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.


Proposals to require subtitles in screenings is a hot issue right now. He also brought up impacts on the recent appeal of laws that protected theaters from certain booking requirements.

When the industry switched to digital projectors, he successfully argued a deal to have studios help pay for the conversion cost.

"We went to them with the argument that we have all the film equipment, that there's nothing wrong with it, it's doing what it's supposed to do," Dave Quincer said. "You guys are the only ones benefiting because you're saving all the money necessary to strike film prints."

He said the advent of streaming services is hurting them, especially with three of Pixar's recent movies skipping the silver screen altogether. He also thinks Hollywood could do a better job at making movies that appeal to the demographics of rural America.

"A movie like Dog right now is the number two movie in the country, but at our theater in Wadena, we're doing better with Dog than we are Uncharted," he explained.

From drive-ins to the classic main street cinemas, he's doing what he can to keep this American small-town tradition alive and thriving.

"Everybody's got a kitchen in their house, but they still go out to eat. It's no different for movie theaters," Dave Quincer said "We can sit at home and watch movies, but it's not the same."

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