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Roll the credits... for now: Family closes theater, hopes for new owners

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

(Sentinel photo by Magdalene Landegent) The Royal T III glows for its last showing Tuesday under the Johnson family ownership. The Le Mars movie theater is closed until new owners take it over or until further notice.
When the house lights went down Tuesday after the final showing at the Royal T III movie theater in Le Mars, they stayed dark.

That was the last night of shows at the Le Mars theater, at least under its current ownership.

"There are potential investors looking at taking it over," said Patrick Johnson, who manages the theater with his wife Sara.

His father Terry "T.J." Johnson has owned it for the past three decades.

"Hopefully it won't be too long," Patrick said.

His family decided to sell the Le Mars movie theater a few months ago.

"We are split between Le Mars, Vermillion and a theater in Neligh (Neb.)," Patrick said, explaining that his family owns and operates theaters in all three locations.

"Our family wanted to focus on not being so spread out," he said.

T.J. Johnson purchased the Le Mars theater from Jack and Terry March in 1978.

Since then, the theater has focused on bringing in family and children's movies -- their core audience, Patrick said.

Their last three shows were "Where the Wild Things Are," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," and "This is It."

Actually, Patrick said, there will be one more showing -- a free sneak preview of "To Save a Life" for youth leaders and teachers at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The Johnsons would ideally like to sell the theater to someone local, but a larger company isn't out of the question, Patrick said.

His family plans to assist anyone who purchases the theater in the transition, he said, adding that he'd be available to show new owners the ropes.

"The most important thing is to get them in the door and help them get this place fixed up," Patrick said. "We want to make sure we're not selling someone a dead end."

Even with the potential sale ahead, Patrick is still meeting with a historic preservation group to continue seeking grants and support to restore the building's historic value.

"We don't want to slow down the momentum there," Patrick said. "We don't want to see the building go to waste."

He, his wife, who is expecting their second child soon, and their son are in the process of moving to Vermillion, where Patrick will help operate the movie theater.

"If the sale doesn't go through, we'll revisit this in a couple of months when our family has settled down," Patrick said. "Hopefully it will transfer swiftly."

He apologized for the abrupt closing of the theater and thanked Le Mars for a good run.

"We appreciate all the support from the community through the years," he said. "We hope it continues."

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Historic preservation, huh? I hope they clean up the cat poop upstairs.

-- Posted by westerner88 on Wed, Nov 11, 2009, at 8:18 PM

I may be wrong but I don't think the Johnson's have owned the Le Mars theatre for the past 3 decades.

I worked there in the mid 80's and it was run by Terry March and I believe he was also the owner at that time. Later Pete March took it over and then it was sold I believe sometime in the 2000's. It used to be a nice theatre when Terry ran it, was kept up better then.

Opened as the Royal Theatre in 1930. It was twinned in the early-1970's and a third screen added in the early-2000's. It was originally operated by March Brothers Theatres and later March Theatres. J & J took over operations in 2005. It was closed in 2009. There is a Hollywood Video store in the lobby of the theatre.http://cinematreasures.org/theater/18413/

-- Posted by An American Citizen on Wed, Nov 11, 2009, at 8:25 PM

I could be wrong but I thought at one time someone wanted to build a theater complex out by Bomgaars. Perfect place. But alas our city fathers wouldn't approve it. If smaller towns like Orange City can have a nice theater, why can't Le Mars? Remsen has a gorgeous swimming pool and it's cheaper to swim there than Le Mars. What's going on? Why do people keep voting in these same old foggies?

-- Posted by Olivia on Wed, Nov 11, 2009, at 8:57 PM

Our comedy team is more interested in turning off some street lights and trying to be a big city and now we are losing the Royal. I still think our comedy team should watch the people up north and maybe they will learn something. Both Sioux Center and Orange City are doing great and have never shut off street lights. Didn't have to hire anyone to tell them how to spend their money either.

-- Posted by one4theroad on Thu, Nov 12, 2009, at 8:07 AM

It sure would be nice to have a theater like the one in Orange City. I know the owners have tried to keep this one up, but the sign is horrendous, the inside was often dirty and need a good coat of paint, the seating areas obsolete. If you want to make a go of things you need to be up to date. And whatever happened to being waited on by clean, well dressed people? It is a business for gosh sake, be professional and not look like you just got out of bed. A theater in Leamrs would be good, but it is so easy to wait a few months and rent it, and watch in your home. If I go to the movies, I want a clean, well kept theater to enjoy my flick in. Otherwise I will wait. Which is probably what happened here. Just saying.......

-- Posted by speakinup on Thu, Nov 12, 2009, at 8:56 AM

This really is a sad loss for Le Mars. It was always nice to know that if you wanted to see a flick you could just head right downtown and not have to drive 20-30 minutes away. It is nice to be able to support hometown businesses. I also always appreciated how the local businesses gave back by offering the free family holiday shows!

However, the Royal has slowly been withering away from neglect. In the last few years the building looks as if it's falling a part and is just plain dirty, and of the last 5 films I've seen there, 3 had problems that caused the film to stop during viewing.

All to often I've wish someone would come in and build a facility like Orange City has. The new business district on the south end of town would be a perfect location! Oh, if only I had the money available...lol.

-- Posted by bzemom on Thu, Nov 12, 2009, at 6:25 PM

I just had a thought. The old Wal-Mart building might be a good place for a theater complex. OK, possible new owners/investors.....please look into that. Le Mars needs a theater.

-- Posted by Olivia on Thu, Nov 12, 2009, at 11:46 PM

Olivia, that would be a great idea but the costs on a new theater startup are huge. The Wal Mart building alone has a price tag of 900k. The cost per screen for seating, projector, sound, screen, etc. is a conservative 100k and upwards of 200k for digital per screen. I had also understood that Wal-Mart has a usage limitation/requirement on that building. I think that's why it's still is empty. Sioux Center on the other hand turned their old Wal Mart into a mini mall. And my understanding of Sioux Center was that the city wasn't going to be told by Corporate Wal Mart what they could use the building for.

-- Posted by economics101 on Fri, Nov 13, 2009, at 9:54 AM

I"m starting to get use to the drive - we goto Orange City to see Movies, Remsen to use their outdoor pool in the summer and Sioux Center in the winter to use their indoor pool.

Le Mars has a far way to go to compete with these prices and facilities.

-- Posted by lemarsmamma on Fri, Nov 13, 2009, at 10:10 AM

When people ask what there is to do in Le Mars...I say drive to Sioux City. This town does nothing to attract people. There are only 2 decent restaurants, and the is absolutely nothing to do. It is only a 20 min. drive to Sioux City. There are the theaters, the Orpheum, the Mall, restaurants that are fun to go to and a lot of good shopping. What does Le Mars have? I have always said Le Mars is a "drive-thru" town. Now another business closing downtown. How sad.

-- Posted by hawkeyes1 on Fri, Nov 13, 2009, at 8:44 PM

That's why are school enrollment is down, shops closed down town, and empty buildings all over. I think you meant hawkeyes1 a drive around town?? The bypass makes it no longer necessary to even stop in Le Mars from either direction.

-- Posted by economics101 on Sat, Nov 14, 2009, at 8:36 AM

This is a shame. I have only been to Royal theater in LeMars one time. I saw the purposal. It would have been a great movie if it didn't skip parts of the movie because the equipment was old. The people working there were dressed like hicks. It was over priced for that kind of service. Now I know why I went to Sioux City to see movies. There is so much more to do there. LeMars needs to stop trying to be a big city and thinking like a big city. Because it's not that big, and LeMars is boring. The only places to shop now are Walmart, and that is only because it is cheap. The little stores downtown are great, but they keep upping their prices. I live in Marcus. I never want to go to the pool in LeMars because I am not going to pay $6 a person to be in cramped areas and not be able to swim. The pool needs to be bigger for a town of that size. I mean the pool in Marcus is bigger than the one in LeMars and only costs $2 a person to get in, and we can leave and come back and not pay anything. The council needs to think about stuff like this. LeMars has 10,000+ people that would like to go swimming in a nice pool that's not over crowded and be able to see a good movie at a respectable place. There are some nice sit down resteraunts. Lally's, 4 Brothers, and Archies. They are very good places and great service.

-- Posted by TonyaSue on Sat, Nov 14, 2009, at 12:54 PM

Economics101: No wonder so many old Wal-Mart stores are empty at 900K!!!!

Coulda woulda shoulda: the Le Mars council should have let the investors put in a new theater a few years back when they were ready and willing to do it.

To hear these negative things said about Le Mars hurts since I was born and raised here but a lot of it is true.

The only thing I can think of as I said before is to vote in some new...and younger... people with contemporary ideas. Get these people who have been in office so long OUT!

-- Posted by Olivia on Sun, Nov 15, 2009, at 7:45 PM

Some people would rather travel 35-40 minutes, and spend 3 dollars more per ticket, so they can have recliner-like seats that go up to the neck, and cupholders, and surround sound. It really doesn't matter to me. I go wherever is convenineint at the time or cheapest. When I saw Shrek 3 at Royal T III it stopped in the middle. Very frustrated. I walked out.

-- Posted by westerner88 on Mon, Nov 16, 2009, at 2:09 PM

Olivia. The other issue with old Wal Mart stores from what I heard is that rstrictions are placed on what goes back in the empty store. Usually they do not want any type of retail activity. In other words it's ok to drive out mom and pop shops but they don't want competition coming back in.

-- Posted by economics101 on Mon, Nov 16, 2009, at 3:11 PM

Is that why LeMars Ford/Mercury didn't move there like many of us thought they would?

-- Posted by westerner88 on Tue, Nov 17, 2009, at 1:42 PM

No, I think don't think that was it at all for Le Mars Ford. Don't know why they didn't move there. If I was a car dealer I wouldn't move move out there. All your new cars would smell like the sewage plant after a while. City still has issues with the smell on that side of town.

-- Posted by economics101 on Tue, Nov 17, 2009, at 2:13 PM

Tonya Sue and others: I agree. LeMars should start focusing on what small town appeal they have and quit playing pretend.

-- Posted by TuesdaysGone on Thu, Nov 19, 2009, at 3:19 PM

TuesdaysGone you have it right!!!

-- Posted by longtimeresident on Fri, Nov 20, 2009, at 10:09 AM

Let's put aside that we are "the ice cream capitol of the world". For most every one local it's not a big deal. And for everyone else in Iowa and the US virtually no one cares. Most everyone has bigger things to care about than that. Like surviving. I think one of the main reasons why our communities to the North are up and progressing is that they are an hour out of a metro area. Eveyone here is right on and in order to keep people in town, you need family oriented activities. It seems to me that the services we as a community have are 1.overpriced 2.under developed 3.need to be focused on our size town and demographics. and 4 quit pretending we are a metropolis. We are a town of less than 10k and Sioux Citians aren't coming to Le Mars, they don't have to. Our Sioux County neighbors already have everything they need to stay in Sioux County.

-- Posted by economics101 on Fri, Nov 20, 2009, at 1:20 PM

Economics101: Wal-Mart has restrictions on what can go in their empty buildings? No wonder there are empty Wal-Mart buildings in so many towns. And your last comment: I'm with you all the way.

-- Posted by Olivia on Fri, Nov 20, 2009, at 11:59 PM

Olivia: They used to. I don't know for sure now, but the folks (town) up North in Sioux Center bought the old store when the super center was built and from what some people told me was that you had to becareful what went back into it. What the Wal Mart family ought to do with these buildings that haven't been sold is donate them back to the cities for development.

-- Posted by economics101 on Sat, Nov 21, 2009, at 8:24 AM

Also have to remember that the 2 towns up North have something we had and lost. College kids.

-- Posted by economics101 on Sat, Nov 21, 2009, at 9:46 AM

Three months now, no scent of a return. Sad.

-- Posted by westerner88 on Wed, Feb 10, 2010, at 8:15 PM

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