With ‘Today’ show feature, Dells Theatre shines for national audience

Nov. 20, 2018

Jeff Logan’s jewel was recognized Monday morning by the NBC “Today” show with a piece about the Dells Theatre, a shining small-town star in Dell Rapids that captures both the owner’s passion for a bygone era as well as a community’s commitment to keep it alive.

Main street theaters in many small towns began disappearing about the same time black and white televisions were losing their appeal, but in Dell Rapids, a town of about 3,600, the tradition lives on thanks to Logan, who grew up in Mitchell working at his family’s theater and then went off to college. When he came back, the theater was waiting for him.

He owns theaters in Mitchell and Huron in addition to the single-screen one in Dell Rapids, which he bought in 1998. He’s a student of the industry with a longstanding series of leadership roles with the National Association of Theatre Owners but at the same time is conscious of making sure going to a movie in Dells is in some ways unlike the experience at bigger theaters.

“The previous owners ran a good business,” he said. “Small towns change – life changes – but this theater is still rooted in the 1950s. When we remodeled it, we created a smaller version of my dad’s theater. I guess we didn’t so much remodeled as much as we reimagined it, to use a Disney term. We knew exactly what we wanted, and we brought it up to speed in one swoop.”

With that kind of background, Logan’s Dells Theatre seemed an appropriate topic for a “Today” feature story on a small business. Even so, when producer Samantha Wender contacted Logan, his immediate reaction was disbelief.

“It was all very surprising,” Logan said. “I didn’t really believe it was happening. I’m corresponding with a producer from the ‘Today’ show? Is someone pranking me here?”

The night the TV crew, which consisted of Wender, spent at the theater had its own kind of charm. The Dell Rapids branch of The First National Bank in Sioux Falls paid for all the tickets, and the debut of “The Grinch” had every seat filled, despite the fact that the Dell Rapids Quarriers football team was playing in the state championship that night and icy roads in the area kept some at home.

“It is just really a neat theater and very nostalgic, so to help promote that and help them have a successful event was very fun,” said Michelle Bunkers, the branch manager at First National who drew on the bank’s Kindness First initiative to pay for all the customers’ tickets that night. “It was a wonderful night and great to have a full house and see the community support the theater.”

The crowd had to empty the theater once and enter again to recapture the scene of people walking in when Wender’s return from Sioux Falls after a day of filming was delayed by icy roads, but overall the event progressed as planned.

“It reminded me of attending movies when I was a kid in Madison when a big movie opened,” said Dell Rapids city administrator Justin Weiland. “The theater was packed, and being it was a small community, everyone knew everyone. It was mostly young families with some grandparents.”

While Logan’s ownership and maintenance of his theater qualifies as incredibly cool, NBC would not have made a visit to Dell Rapids – and 300 people would not have attended the debut of “The Grinch” – if the owner was not following a viable small-business plan.

In general, that means giving customers something the big chains can’t deliver, Logan said. Specifically in the theater business, it means delivering the amenities – state-of-the-art digital film and sound systems, not to mention excellent popcorn – within an authentic Art Deco theater. Yes, there is only one screen, but it’s a good one.

“It’s a great business to be in – everybody is in a good mood and having a good time,” Logan said. “Part of our philosophy is that we may be in small towns, but we’re going to run the theaters in a professional way and maintain the equipment as well as we can afford. We can’t say ‘Well, we’re located in a small town and this is good enough.’ We have to offer the same things the big theaters do.”

Logan, who has three children who grew up helping out at the theater just as he did, would like to someday pass along the business to family. One of his daughters has indicated an interest in eventually taking it on. In the meantime, he’ll keep this job, which sounds a lot like a hobby when he describes it.

Liking what you do is also part of a sound small-business plan. In this case, Logan wins and so does Dell Rapids.

“For me, it’s the overall experience the theater creates,” Weiland said. “It’s Jeff’s attention to detail that makes the Dells Theatre unique and helps to enhance the identity and personality of our community.”

To view the “Today” show piece, click here.

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With ‘Today’ show feature, Dells Theatre shines for national audience

“Today” show viewers Monday got a look at the inspiring Dells Theatre. You can see a replay here – and hear some great stories behind the story.

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