By John Lauritsen

COOK, Minn. (WCCO) — The pandemic has not been kind to movie theaters. Some have closed their doors for good. But there’s one near the Canadian border that is the longest, continuously-running single-screen theater in the state — the Comet Theater in Cook, Minnesota.

About 500 hearty northlanders call Cook home, which means they try and have one of everything. For instance, Carol Carlson owns the only coffee shop in town and the only boutique in town.

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Both share a building with the only theater in town. But it’s a theater that’s nearly as old as the film industry itself.

“I didn’t really originally think of it like a business, I thought of it as a lifestyle,” Carlson said.

She bought the Comet Theater after moving back from New York City in 2000. She and her family were looking for a home and ended up with a movie house.

“It had never closed, you know. Like it’s always been run by someone here,” she said.

The Comet officially opened its doors in 1939, the same year “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” made their big-screen debuts. Times have certainly changed.

About 10 years ago, Carlson became worried her movie screen would go dark for the final time.

“I was buying the building and I had to make payments and the movie wasn’t cutting it,” she said. “When I heard how much people care, I was like, ‘It’s not going down while I have it.'”

(credit: CBS)

Shawna Kishel is one of those people who care. She’s been going to the Comet since she was a kid.

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“It’s a nostalgic experience for a lot of people in the area,” she said.

Kishel helped Carlson with a Kickstarter campaign to try and keep the Comet open. They knew it was more than just a theater to Cook, but they weren’t expecting much — until the donations began pouring in.

In a short amount of time, 300 people showed just how much they cared by donating a total of $80,000. That was enough for much-needed upgrades, and it helped move the Comet from the film age to the digital age.

Since then, Carlson has found other ways to keep the credits rolling, such as coffee and clothes. Her boutique has literally crept into the theater, but that’s the way it has to be to keep the lights on.

(credit: CBS)

Carlson doesn’t consider herself an owner as much as a steward for the next generation. She’s now looking to give someone else a chance.

“My hope for the Comet is someone takes this and runs with it,” she said.

Perhaps the message on the theater’s mural says it best. When it comes to the Comet, “Remember to always to reach for the stars.”

“You walk into a space and you see possibilities. And the Comet has been that for anyone who has walked into it. It’s a place of dreams quite frankly,” Carlson said.

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Carlson’s boutique and coffee shop opens in the spring, and she plays movies during the summer and the month before Christmas. She also rents out the theater for events.

John Lauritsen