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Benson community support makes sure the show will go on at the storied DeMarce Theatre

Larry DeMarce has been welcoming movie fans to the DeMarce Theatre for more than 42 years. He will remain as manager when Tim and Susie Kletscher become the new owners of the popular Benson business. The DeMarce family has been offering movies in Benson since 1925. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

BENSON -- With a business as important as its movie theatre at stake, Benson has decided to write its own script to make sure the show goes on.

The stars of the show couldn't be happier with their roles.

"It's time to pay the community back,'' said Larry DeMarce, 74, owner of the town's DeMarce Theatre. "I want to be sure the community has a theatre.''

So do Tim and Susie Kletscher, who will soon become the new owners of the theatre that has been part of the DeMarce family since 1925.

It's being made possible in large part through community involvement. The City of Benson's Economic Development Agency has assembled a $50,000 forgivable loan that will make it possible for the business transfer to occur at month's end.

The agreement requires the new owners to invest anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 into the venture, and maintain the current quality of service and ownership over a five-year period.

The new owners intend to invest heavily in modernizing the 320-seat theatre. Tim Kletscher said they will replace the 35-mm film projector system with a digital system, install a new sound system and add new electrical services in the building. They may even replace its screen with a silver screen compatible for 3-D movies.

The community is also launching a fund drive -- the Theatre Legacy -- to help repay the public investment.

Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington said the community has been supportive of the effort to protect the future of the theatre. The community views the theatre as a major cultural and economic asset, he said.

He said other communities have adopted a variety of strategies to keep their theatres. Keeping this theatre under private ownership and management is seen as the best means of assuring its long-term viability.

Keeping a movie theatre in a rural community is a quality of life issue for people who want to live where they can enjoy entertainment and an evening out, noted DeMarce.

Its presence benefits other retail businesses in a community, whether they are restaurants or hardware stores. A theatre helps keeps people and their money in town, he noted.

Tim Kletscher, 38, is an elementary school instructor, while Susie, 40, is raising their two young children. DeMarce will continue managing the theatre as the husband and wife increase their roles in its operations.

DeMarce has owned and managed the theatre since taking it over from his brother, Paul, more than 42 years ago. Their father, John, started the family tradition with the purchase of the Viking Theatre in 1925. Fire struck the Viking in 1930, and the family rebuilt and changed the marquee to carry the family name.

The DeMarce Theatre survived a fire that gutted its interior in 1959. DeMarce said the bigger challenge proved to a string of years when Hollywood put out a long line of duds.

The small-town movie business remains challenging, more so today by competition from multi-screen theatres, DVDs and movies on demand over the Web, DeMarce said.

Yet he is optimistic, too. People still love to go to their hometown movie house, and enjoy hot buttered popcorn and pop. Rising gas prices and a rebounding appreciation for wholesome, family entertainment give both DeMarce and the Kletschers reason to believe the theatre has a long history ahead.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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