This is the final weekend to catch a movie in the Fort Frances area, as the only movie theatre in the region is closing.
Mason Hanover, the owner of Cine 5 Theatre in International Falls, Minn., posted on the theatre’s social media account this weekend would be the last for the theatre, which is closing its doors for good.
The issue started late last year when a leak was discovered in the waterline for the sprinkler system in the theatre. The office of the fire marshal allowed it to stay open for temporary basis with a firewatch.
“It's all about the pipe. [The City of International Falls] initially closed us down,” he said. “We had to change a bunch of lights. We got to open again.”
Hanover said they found a contracting company that would fix the leak and the quote that came in was a manageable amount.
“They said OK well we can't do it in the super cold weather. So we waited for it to warm up. So it warmed up a little bit and then they started and it took one day,” he said. “They dug a [four metre] trench around the pipe and that's where the break was supposed to be, where the company that the city hired [told us it was]. it wasn't there.”
Hanover said the contractor went back to the city and said they couldn’t continue because it would require digging up another 13 to 26 metres of pipe just to find the leak, which would be too much work.
He said the contractor said if the repair could wait until spring when the frost is gone, it would only take one day to fix it.
“But the city then just said no. We're closing you down March 3,” he said. “I've seen on Facebook the mayor said things that they gave me a 60-day [extension], which they never told me. And then they said the state fire marshal said that you need to close down. So I have just decided I'm not going to deal with them anymore and I'm just going close and move on.”
Hanover said he doesn’t have the finances to wait until the repairs are completed.
“Someone with deeper pockets can sustain this loss. I can't,” he said. “I think it will make money and there's things that can be done. Like I have told multiple people: luxury seats, alcohol, things like that will draw. They seem to really draw to movie theatres and they do much better but I don't have the capital to do that and I'm just not willing to invest it into a city that just doesn't care about small business and stuff like that.”
In his statement about the situation, International Falls Mayor Harley Droba described the issue and said a measure was put in place to keep the business open on a temporary basis.
“The City of International Falls took it upon themselves to assist in finding the leak on the fire line with Rural Water at no cost to the business,” Droba continued.
“The City also allowed Cine 5 to stay open past the recommended 60 day timeline. However, due to public safety and lack of an appropriate fire suppression system, The State Fire Marshal's Office recently recommended that Cine 5 be closed until the fire line, sprinklers and bathrooms are in working order.”
Jared Baldwin, the fire marshal for the city of International Falls, wrote in an email to Dougall Media that it’s the city’s responsibility to enforce the fire code.
“We are able to use discretion based on the deficiencies present. We have allowed the theatre to remain open on a temporary basis with restrictions with the intent that the owner would resolve the deficiencies,” he said. “The timeline has elapsed and the deficiencies have not been remedied.”
The loss of the theatre will affect many in the Borderland community.
Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce executive director Heather Johnson said the news is very upsetting, especially for families with children who go to the movies.
“We are a border community and we do travel back and forth. I bowl in the United States. We grocery shop. We're very close communities, so it's very hard that the theatre is going to close down. It's our only theatre in both communities,” she said.
Johnson said it’s important for people to understand that the closure is driven by safety concerns and that nobody's just walking away from the business.
“I don't think [there’s any town where] the council and the mayor want businesses to close. That's definitely not what they want to see happen,” she said.
She doesn’t know what movie goers will do now since Fort Frances doesn’t have a movie theatre.
Hanover said in the very short term, he is trying to sell the theatre or the equipment.
“I have talked to my [movie] booker and he's going talk to somebody that was possibly interested,” he said. “I've talked to my equipment supplier who is going to look to see if the equipment [can be sold].”
He said if he sells the equipment, the funds will just go back to creditors, including the U.S. federal government, which gave him loans for COVID-19 relief.
Hanover said he’s been applying for jobs down in the Twin Cities area.
“I'm going to go down and live with my son part time and then we'll eventually leave the area,” he said.