Last week’s guest speaker was Michelle “Mickey” Maher, owner of the Falls Theater, also known as “the person behind the curtain,” and outstanding recipient of Small Business of the Year last year.
Last week’s guest speaker was Michelle “Mickey” Maher, owner of the Falls Theater, also known as “the person behind the curtain,” and outstanding recipient of Small Business of the Year last year.
 
“We are all sentimental about the theater,” she said, noting that her father, Stan McCulloch, bought the theater in 1972 and viewed it as a good opportunity in a small town because of the college.
 
“He had an abundance of generosity,” she said of her father, adding that “he had the gift of making people feel special when he was with them and that gave him a reputation.”
 
Stan was a film buyer first, and he fought hard to bring an infusion of new energy to the business. His family has worked to continue as his legacy in a changing industry where the number of screens is direction influencing the financial bottom line.
 
“Dad loved interactions with customers on a daily basis,” Mickey said. “He often sat and watched the audience, he loved to see them jump during the scary parts of a film or laughing during the comedic scenes.” He was proud that he always employed a projectionist and created other jobs for local residents.
 
In all the years of owning the theater, her dad commuted from Minneapolis, occasionally sleeping in his car when needed. She joked that the family never moved to River Falls, because her mom didn’t want to end up running the business.
 
But now, Mickey’s family IS involved, and she finds value in that. She said she is blessed to work in a business where she could be with her kids and involve them. In fact, her son, Michael, is now heavily entrenched in operating the business, and has provided the basis for a plan moving forward to the future.
 

Transition from individualism to community

Mickey says she realized that her dad’s strong sense of individualism marked his ownership of the business, but noted that community is more important these days than ever before in keeping a small business alive. And repeat business is a big part of that.
 
"We keep prices as low as we possibly can, because our value lies in the consistency of the weekly customer," she said.
 
“Movie theaters offer a communal experience, storytelling at its best,” she said. “Connecting with community and finding support is how we are going to move forward, and we are incredibly grateful for the feeling of support we got in making that second screen happen.”
 

Plans for an extended future

Mickey has plans for a main auditorium renovation early in 2020, and gives a lot of thought to the business's presence on the riverfront.
 
“I do believe there is a future in it and that is why we do what we do now,” she said. “We want to move forward with strength.”
 
And her motivation, just like her dad's, is the people who come to the movies.
 
“Who else could love the business enough to be there seven days a week? To personalize the experience for the customers; to care for the space? What holds the mortar together at the theater is the fact that we, as caretakers, love the theater not only because of its legacy, but all the customers who come in and say ‘oh we love this theater.’”
 
“People don’t go to a multiplex and tell you that.”
 
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