MITCHELL — For 80 years, the Nile Theater has been a mainstay on Center Avenue in Mitchell.
The neon lights of the marquee light up the downtown street and the feature films and the atmosphere inside draw moviegoers from miles around to the theater co-owned by Sara and Ward Krichau. An attendant in an old-school box office greets customers as they come in the door to purchase either floor or balcony seats. The traditional popcorn, candy and soda selections are available in the concession stand.
“Under-Pup” was the first movie shown at the Nile on Nov. 21, 1939, and a few thousand titles have followed. The projection system has changed dramatically, switching from the old film reels to a modern server where the digital picture is loaded on a hard drive. On the previous “platter system,” a feature film would come in on six reels, each covering about 20 minutes. The reels were loaded onto a platter and the films were taped together to run smoothly. As the film ran, it automatically reloaded itself for the next showing. The newest sound and digital system was put in about six years ago.
The Krichaus, along with Sara’s brother and sister-in-law Tearle and Barb Schmer, purchased the theater and the Wyoming Theater Two in Torrington, Wyoming, more than 20 years ago. A few years back, the Schmers moved and got out of the movie business and the Wyoming Theater was sold. All of the family involved in the business have had other day jobs. Barb Schmer was a radiology tech, Tearle Schmer an architect, Sara Krichau is a pharmacist and Ward Krichau is an ultrasound tech.
On the “good days,” with a popular movie, the crowds will come. On the “bad days,” with a feature people don’t want to see, it can make for a tough week. Krichau said the good and the bad so far this year have been the popular “Toy Story 4” and the bad draw seemed to be “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.”
“We do better with G, PG and PG-13,” Krichau said. “We don’t always do well with R rated movies, so we try to stay away from them. ... We probably do better with family movies.”
Owning the landmark business in Mitchell isn’t something that Krichau takes for granted. She said she appreciates the building and what it represents.
“I think the marquee is cool,” she said. “That’s probably the best thing just because there’s not very many of them anymore.”
So, what movies does someone who owns a movie theater watch?
“I like a romantic comedy with a happy ending,” she said.
She said she watched “Pirates of the Caribbean” four times and watched at least part of “I Can Only Imagine” every night that it showed.
Keeping up an historic business in an industry where people come to enjoy their experience makes for a good escape for the Krichaus from their day jobs.
“This is just a fun job,” Krichau said, “People are usually happy to come here, and want to come here.”