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Brekke siblings invest in Hebron’s Mayer Theatre

Press Photo by Linda Sailer Co-owner Bonnie Brekke sells concessions at Mayer Theater in Hebron on Jan. 31.1 / 3
Press Photo by Linda Sailer The marquee, with its neon and twinkling lights, draws attention to the Mayer Theatre in Hebron.2 / 3
Press Photo by Linda Sailer Movie-goers wait to watch “The Nut Job” at the Mayer Theatre in Hebron on Jan. 31.3 / 3

HEBRON — The marquee twinkles and glows in the dark, while the aroma of popcorn fills the lobby of Mayer Theatre. Not much appears to have changed since sister and brother, Bonnie and Jerry Brekke, attended movies as teenagers.

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However, the building has undergone multiple improvements since the Brekkes purchased the business in 2010.

“After a number of years, the building was left in disrepair and it had issues,” Bonnie said. “We’ve done a lot of work on it.”

They have painted the walls and installed handicap-accessible bathrooms. Instead of a movie projector and huge reels of film, the co-owners invested in a digitized movie system.

“My brother has done so much painting, I feel sorry for him,” Bonnie said. “Everything is done except above the stage and they are working on that now.”

Bonnie remembers the Mayer Theatre as being a kid-friendly building and an anchor in Hebron. When it came up for sale, the Brekkes decided to make the investment to keep it open.

As owner of the Grand Theatres in Bismarck, Jerry was well versed in what repairs and improvements the Mayer Theatre needed, Bonnie said.

They grew up on a family farm west of Hebron — the same farm where Bonnie still lives.

The Mayer Theatre was started by the Mayer family in the 1940s, and went through change of ownership twice more before Brekkes made the purchase.

“People had gotten out of the habit of going to movies, and it takes a long time for people to get back into the habit,” she said. “We’re a small-town theatre that is struggling to stay open.”

To keep up with industry standards, they made the decision to switch to digital in 2011.

“It’s very expensive, especially for a theatre that operates three days a week,” Bonnie said. “Little towns have a hard time meeting the cost of installing digital.”

The switch was actually necessary because all film companies have converted to the digital format, Bonnie said.

“The picture is clear, the sound is tremendous and very much improved from the old days,” she said.

The seats were replaced about 1998, but they could be updated.

“They’re comfortable, but depending on how things go, they’re probably our next priority,” Bonnie said.

The popcorn machine that was installed in 1949 has stood the test of time.

“It really keeps on going,” she said.

Because Jerry liked the look of the original marquee and neon lights, he had them restored in 2010.

To keep down the costs, the Brekkes rely on volunteers from the community to help sell tickets and serve popcorn.

“They are very faithful folks who want to keep the theatre going,” Bonnie said.

Joan and Lisa Conlon are among more than 20 volunteers who help sell concessions and tickets.

“It’s to keep the theatre open,” Joan Conlon said. “I remember the lines down the end of the block when I was a kid. I want to keep the movies coming. We need something for the kids.”

“I grew up here and the popcorn is the best,” Lisa Conlon said. “It’s where we were as kids.”

The Brekkes look for movies that appeal to their audiences.

“We find children’s movies are very popular, like ‘Frozen’ and ‘The Nut Job,’” Bonnie said. The blockbuster “The Lego Movie” recently played there as well.

“Westerns are so well received. When we show cowboys or horses, oh my gosh, they do so well.”

Despite the availability of home videos, Bonnie still likes getting out of the house and believes others do as well.

“Friends are texting their friends to meet them there,” she said. “We have lots of people my age bracket appreciate that they can get out to see a good movie. We’re hanging in there.”