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Published April 04, 2013, 10:02 PM

Lisbon group trying to save longest running theatre in America

Lisbon, ND (WDAY TV) - In Lisbon they're rallying around "The Scenic." The beloved movie theatre is the "oldest, continually running movie house" in America.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY Staff Reports, WDAY

Lisbon, ND (WDAY TV) - In Lisbon they're rallying around "The Scenic." The beloved movie theatre is the "oldest, continually running movie house" in America.

But the demand to switch movie theatres to digital, costs tens of thousands of dollars and it's shutting some down. The people of Lisbon to the rescue.

Al Michels is one of those guys who can do it all. Retired from Bobcat, he now threads movies on his own projector.

But it is tough these days. With most theatres now switched over to digital.

Al Michels, Scenic Theatre Owner: “About $95,000. That includes the projector and sound system.”

Al and his 35mm must wait for days, weeks to get their hands on a movie.

Al: “They are not making 35 mm prints.”

Al and his wife Betty have put their heart and soul into the Scenic. They gutted it and remodeled the theatre once they bought it.”

Betty Michels, Scenic Theatre Owner: “It is hard for me because I know how hard he has worked.”

Old, decorative lights are up, rescued from a pile of junk on a basement dirt floor. The bulbs change colors. Here in Lisbon since 1911, the Scenic has hosted the best. Movie bills long before World War I, shows that boasted two hours of tingling action. Dorothy and Oz, Marlin Brando, John Wayne. All the greats graced this screen. A centerpiece on main street, The Scenic packed them in. Cars lined the road.

Betty: “We have fun, we have fun doing it.”

The dilemna now, paying thousands for the digital costly conversion. The doors have never been so close to closing.

Al: “One of our studios just doubled the cost for a 35 mm print.”

Now the people of Lisbon have stepped in, forming a group called Save Our Scenic. The plan is to raise thousands of dollars, so the city can buy the equipment and lease it back to the theatre owners.”

Kari Webb, Save Our Scenic: “It is local it is, the oldest in the US. It is a treasure for our community and those around us.”

What does that mean to Betty.

Betty: “A lot.”

Rich history here at the Scenic.

Al: “And we are the 4th family to own the Scenic in the 102 year history.”

Al and Betty want to stay. After all, they still use real butter on the popcorn, the machine from the 1940's. It doesn't get any better.

Al: “We put our heart and souls into and the enthusiasm they have, it is exciting.”

Now the families who have spent their Saturday nights together here hope the Scenic survives another century as a fixture on Main Street and holding on to its reign as oldest King of the theatres.

"Save Our Scenic" is taking donations. We have made a link to their Facebook site on WDAY.com.

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