Inspired by an article that said it’s possible to open a movie theater for $15,000, Andy and Anna Smith threw their cinema-loving hearts into the idea.
On Friday, they opened their Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse in Rochester to a sold-out crowd.
So far, so good.
The city’s newest microcinema seats 66 people in front of a screen the Smiths built themselves. Their first movie, Charlie Chaplin’s “Gold Rush,” was shown Friday with a live musical score to people who paid $75 a seat to be part of the opening night festivities.
Andy Smith, a Los Angeles native, said he hopes to see the theater become the center of a vibrant film community in Rochester.
“We want you to stay after the film and talk about what you just experienced,” he said in one of several YouTube videos he made describing the project.
It’s the latest arrival in a city that’s seen a lot of them lately.
The city’s population has grown 30% since 2000, rising from 85,806 residents back then to 115,733 in 2017, according to U.S. census figures.
The city frequently lands near the top of the list on best places to live in the U.S., and the Mayo Clinic just notched another No. 1-hospital-in-the-world ranking, this time from Newsweek magazine.
Adding to the city’s powerhouse growth has been the Mayo Clinic’s $5.6 billion, 20-year expansion plan known as Destination Medical Center, which promises to draw tens of thousands of new employees.
Anna Smith might get some of the credit for her family’s arrival in Minnesota. A native of Cottage Grove, she was the inspiration for the couple’s search for an Upper Midwest home for their cinema project.
But Andy Smith said he was drawn to Rochester after an initial visit revealed a city with a growing arts scene.
“There’s a lot of new arts groups, a lot of freshness and energy entering it recently,” he said.
And then there was that article.
A detailed description of a microcinema project in New Orleans, the article broke down the cost of everything from the projector to the butter warmer. (They recommended a $200 budget.) The article’s main point was that it’s possible to open a theater with little more than passion and a lean business model.
The Smiths launched an online fundraiser via the Indiegogo website and did what work they could themselves. They even built their own movie screen. A YouTube video they posted of the process shows about a dozen folks constructing it from scratch before attaching it to the wall.
In another video in which he described the cinema’s birth, Smith said that reading that article made him believe that “this dream that I have is maybe possible.”
A search for an adequate commercial property landed the couple in a spot in Rochester’s Cooke Park Design District a few blocks north of the Mayo Clinic. The coffeehouse and cinema sit at 619 6th Av. NW.
The coffee shop will serve beverages during the week, with the cinema showing independent, foreign, cult, classic and documentary films on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Tickets are $8, or $12 for a double feature.
The schedule so far includes “Time for Ilhan,” “Gloria Bell,” “High Life,” “The Brink” and “Shoplifters.”
In June, the theater is scheduled to host the Squirrel Association, a local improv group.