HARMONY, Minn. (WCCO) — New technology may end up forcing a historic Minnesota theater to close its doors for good.

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The JEM movie theater in Harmony, Minn. needs to convert to a digital projector in order to stay in business but that comes at a hefty price — $75,000, to be exact. And that’s money the couple who runs the theater just doesn’t have.

Harmony, Minnesota has a population of 1,080. The small town hasn’t changed much over the years. The downtown looks just like it did in the 1920s.

But within the old pictures and newspapers is a history of “The JEM” movie theater.

The theater opened with silent films in the 1920s. A few years later, 93-year-old Merlyn Hoiness worked for Warner Brothers and would count the number of people who attended each movie.
He would then report it to the company so they could collect their percentage.

“I saw ‘Trail of the Lonesome Pines’ a 120 times,” Hoiness said. “It got to the point it was almost running through my head.”

The theater burned down in that location in the 1930s. A new owner opened it back up, next door, in 1940.

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“I tell my grandson, it’s where grandpa and I held hands and watched all the movies,” says Marilyn Trouten, Harmony’s tourism director.

She’s trying to help the current owners, Michelle and Paul Haugerud, keep the theater open.

The film industry just informed them that within the next year it will no longer provide theaters with 35mm film. In order to stay open, they will have to upgrade to digital. They say that costs $75,000 — a price they can’t afford.

“We’ve always kept prices low so families who are financially hard shipped can still get their kids out of the house,” Michelle said.

She and Paul have owned the theater for nine years, while continuing to work their full-time jobs.

“Even if we raise prices, that just means the film company gets a bigger percentage,” she said.

They hope to raise funds and get people from other Minnesota communities interested in their small town theater.

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