Small-town theaters offer old-fashioned experience

Cars are ready for the movie to start at the Pheasant Drive-In in Mobridge. The theater’s season runs from May to September, and movies are shown at dusk every weekend. Courtesy photo

By Katherine Grandstrand [email protected]

There’s only a handful of showings each week, there’s only one screen and only one movie each week, but that’s kind of the beauty of a small-town movie theater.

The further you get from Aberdeen and the city’s 10 movie screens — nine at the AMC Classic Aberdeen 9 at Aberdeen Mall and one at the Capitol Theatre downtown — the closer you’ll get to an old-fashioned monoplex.

Some of the theaters are a century old, others have gone through major renovations, but one thing the theaters in northeast South Dakota (and one in southeast North Dakota) have in common is that they’re independently owned and operated.

The Lyric Theatre in Faulkton has been in the Huss family since it was built in 1950. Brothers Cyril and Leo ran the theater until a fire in 1967, when Cyril bought Leo’s share and renovated the space, said David Huss, who currently runs the theater his father, Cyril, started.

“People don’t go out to the movies nearly as much as they did in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Huss said.

Wendy Johnson, owner of the Grand Theatre in Oakes, N.D., didn’t plan on running a theater, but when she moved to Oakes 19 years ago, the Grand was in danger of closing, a fate that it hadn’t faced since the 1980s.

“I’m not a movie buff, I just didn’t want to see it close,” Johnson said.

It’s been more than 40 years of running the Pheasant Drive-In in Mobridge for Ron Maier, who bought the theater in 1976.

“People can do their own thing in their cars,” Maier said. “They don’t have to hire a baby sitter.”

There are some challenges to owning a theater. For one, a movie costs the same for a small-town theater as it does for a multiplex, Johnson said. And the theater usually doesn’t get movies on opening weekend, because many studios require a two-week commitment.

“A lot of people don’t want to wait to see the movie,” Johnson said.

But there are some perks, such as having total control over the concession stand.

Maier serves a homemade barbecue sandwich at the Pheasant Drive-In that has been touted as one of the best around, he said.

And Johnson said she only serves real butter on the popcorn at the Grand.

“There’s only specific brands that I use,” Johnson said. “I don’t use any off-brands, we use Land O’Lakes or Crystal Farms, period.”

Owners can get creative with programming, too. There were several classic movies shown at the Pheasant City Drive In in Redfield last summer, such as “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Goonies.”

In Faulkton, Huss said he’ll occasionally do a 21-and-over night.

“We let people bring in a beer cooler and relax,” Huss said. “It’s normally on a Friday night.”

It’s worth the trip to some of these small towns, not only for their theaters.

Oakes has a lot of neat shops, including Sweets and Stories, a coffee and book shop, next door to the Grand Theatre, Johnson said.

Mobridge’s Pheasant Drive-In overlooks Lake Oahe.

Huss recommended the Dot T Steakhouse in Faulkton — a business his family also owns.

“A lot of people enjoy our chislic — we sell a lot of chislic,” Huss said.

Follow @kgrandstrandAAN on Twitter.

Grand Theatre

507 Main Ave., Oakes, N.D.

Showings three nights a week, 7:30 p.m. either Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday, depending on other town activities.

Season: Year round, although there is no movie the weekend of the North Dakota State Wrestling Tournament.

Search “Grand Theatre in Oakes” on Facebook for upcoming movies, which are announced mid-week, and that weekend’s schedule.

Lyric Theatre

809 Court St., Faulkton.

Showings three nights a week, 8 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

Season: May though November.

Search “Lyric Theatre, Faulkton” on Facebook for upcoming movies.

Mac Theatre

311 N. Main St., Mobridge.

Showings three nights a week, 8 p.m., generally Friday through Sunday. Matinees, when available, are at 1 p.m.

Season: September to May.

Search “Mac Theatre” on Facebook for upcoming movies and schedule changes.

Pheasant City Drive In Theatre

17230 U.S. Highway 281, Redfield.

Showings three nights a week at dusk, generally Friday through Sunday.

Season: May to September.

Visit pheasantcitydrivein.com or search “Pheasant City Drive In Theatre” on Facebook for upcoming movies, schedule changes and special events.

Pheasant Drive-In

1600 20th St. W., Mobridge.

Showings four nights a week at dusk, generally Friday through Monday.

Season: May through September.

Visit pheasantdrivein.weebly.com or search “Pheasant Drive-In” on Facebook for upcoming movies and schedule changes.

Strand Theatre

703 Main St., Britton.

Showings three nights a week, 7:30 p.m., generally Friday through Sunday.

Season: Year-round.

Visit strand-theatre-brittonsd.com for upcoming movies and schedule changes, like added matinees.

Webster Theatre

704 Main St., Webster.

Showings three nights a week, 7:30 p.m., generally Saturday through Monday.

Season: Year-round.

Search “Webster Theatre” on Facebook for upcoming movies and schedule changes.