It’s not every day a small town gets a new movie theater on Main Street, but that’s exactly what our co-op has done. Spring Grove Communications co-op built a cinema during a two-year, fiber-optic installation project. The fiber-optic cable is all in the ground, and all of our customers in our 100-square-mile rural service area have fiber to each of their homes and businesses. This is technology that most large metro areas do not have, and it should take care of our community technology needs for years to come.

But we wouldn’t leave it at that. The co-op is a strong supporter of our community, and building a cinema is only the latest project it has completed for our “happening” town of 1,400, tucked away in the southeastern corner of Minnesota.  The old cinema, at a different locale, had closed a number of years ago, forcing residents of Spring Grove to travel thirty miles for a night at the movies.


Building Boom

The cinema is not our first major downtown construction project.

In 2004, we purchased blighted property next to our office and built a new $1.2 million headquarters. This price may sound excessive, until you understand what is inside that building—a new public library, two community meeting rooms and three separate business offices that currently house a graphic designer, an attorney and an Internet business. The co-op also owns and operates a 24-hour fitness center with a trainer. And the building offers more space for our co-op to grow.

Spring Grove Communications has also contributed $100,000 to help fund a new aquatic center for the city, replacing an old and inefficient pool. This facility draws many kids and families from out of town, boosting the local economy. 

For the cinema, we spent $1.1 million and built—from the ground up—a stadium-style, 200-seat, full digital, 3D-capable facility with a stage for presentations, public meetings and other forums, as well as 900 square feet of rental office space.

The cinema has been a huge hit and keeps Main Street full of cars and activity.


More than Movies

The cinema opened in 2009 and has always been more than a movie theater. The first event there—even before showing a movie—was a play by the local drama organization.  The space has quickly become a vibrant center for all kinds of community events. It even sells locally-produced Spring Grove Soda Pop, which has been in business for 115 years.

In addition to the Friday through Monday movie schedule, there have been training seminars with a large medical clinic, a meeting of the Southeast Minnesota Economic Development Authority and even a couple of video gaming contests. A local church has held services, shown Christian movies, and then discussed them afterwards.  Other events have included a wedding, bluegrass musicians, private showings of the current movie, parties for elementary sports teams and birthday parties. 

Other activities include a partnership with our local library, which writes grants for different activities. One of the grants was used to bring in performers featured on A Prairie Home Companion.  We rented a baby grand piano for the show, and the public library later decided to purchase it. Now the piano sits on the stage of the cinema, and recently, local piano students used it for a Christmas carol sing-a-long.

We have presented a variety of performers, including internationally-known Norwegian artist Sigmund Aarseth, who painted three large paintings on the cinema stage to musical accompaniment.  Afterward the pictures were auctioned off to benefit a new genealogy center next door to the cinema. 

Learning by Doing

Currently the cinema has thirteen employees, nine of whom are local youth. We are forging a partnership with the local K–12 public school, highlighting the learning experiences for students and showcasing potential careers in the movie business.  Possible projects include developing advertising to sell to area businesses or making short films about area businesses.  

Our cinema manager develops, designs, sells and plays all the local ads during the period before the previews.  When she’s not working on cinema jobs, she is in charge of Spring Grove Communications’ own SGC-TV local channel, which we are about to launch. Community programming such as City Council or School Board meetings, school activities like band and choir concerts, student-made videos and advertising plus many more community-minded events will be shown on the “local channel.” And of course, anything produced for the cinema could be played on our local TV channel as well.  

It has been a lot of hard work and planning, but the rewards for the community cannot be measured. Our cooperative is our community.  Our community is our cooperative.  When we help one, we help the other.

• Craig Otterness is the general manager and CEO of Spring Grove Communications. This article was adapted from a story that appeared in the NTCA Exchange newsletter. For more information about the cinema visit

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of the Cooperative Business Journal.

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