The Tiffany Theater (left) and owners Stuart Fox and Andrew Solomon
There’s a lot to like about this small town in Custer County in central Nebraska; friendly neighborhoods, fine lakes and quiet rivers, the Sandhills -- and the all-digital 3-D capable Tiffany Theater.
The old white-washed front of the building in Broken Bow dating back to 1915 had been the destination spot on the brick cobblestone street for years.
But this town of a little more than 3,000 people was in danger of losing its movie theater, and the next-closest one was 60 miles away. The owners were packing up for another town and two theaters they’d just purchased, and the projectors and other equipment were heading out with them.
“They listed it for sale for two years," said Stuart Fox, one of the co-owners of the Tiffany. "If no one had bought it, they were going to take all the equipment from the theater with them when they left town. We couldn't let that happen."
But buying the theater six years ago in a partnership with co-owner Andrew Solomon six years ago was just the start. Both grew up in Custer County, and wanted to give their neighbors quality entertainment normally only available in a larger city.
"I thought we were an underserved market," Fox said. "I saw other communities that had two-screen theaters that were open all the time, and I thought, if they can do it, why can't we?"
Fox traveled the state extensively, finding towns in the state similar to Broken Bow supporting two-screen theaters open seven days a week. At the time, the Tiffany had its one screen open only three days.
“I said, if they can do it in Valentine, Nebraska,” referring to the north-central town near the South Dakota border, “we could do it.”
Under the company name Vulpes Corp. (the name comes from the Latin word for fox), the two set about installing a heat pump, which meant for the first time in nearly 90 years, the theater finally enjoyed air conditioning. They added offices to the upper floor, and renovated the entrance and ticket and concession area to “make it a little more welcoming.” In November 2008, they added a second screen.
Finally, in May 2009, with a $170,000 SBA Express loan for the newest digital technology available and a $240,000 7(a) loan under the Recovery Act to pay for renovations, the Tiffany Theater was ready for its grand re-opening. Neighbors marveled at the 92-seat theater upstairs and 120-seat one on the main floor, with maximum-sized screens, stadium seating with high-back rocker seats, and the newest digital projection and surround sound technology. And no more waiting weeks or a couple of months for a new release; now, Broken Bow gets to see new movies when they open nationwide.
Even better: the Tiffany Theater is one of the first two in central Nebraska with three-dimensional capability – which also meant the theater was one of the few in the state to show Kenney Chesney’s summer concert series in 3-D, drawing country music fans from larger Kearney and Grand Island to the small town.
Oh, and they offer Husker football on the big screen on Saturday afternoons.
Tiffany Theater offers alternative content servers in both auditoriums to show any type of digital media, and plans for overhead lighting means Broken Bow has a new site for business meetings, fundraisers, even birthday parties.
“I look it at as my community service,” Fox said. “We’re not doing this for the money, we just feel that it’s important for the community. I don’t ever intend to make a lot of money off the place. If I can hold it together that would be fine.”
That sense of giving back even extends to those who work in the theater. According to a story in the Grand Island Independent in July, Sam Troxel, a young Broken Bow High School graduate, won a $500 college scholarship from the North Central Unit of the National Association of Theater Owners.
And here’s the rest of the story: Fox is the vice-president of the Custer Economic Development Corp., and the president of Nebraska State Bank. When Vulpes Corp. needed to finance the theater project, he couldn’t very well go to his own bank’s vault and scoop up the needed cash.
“As an executive offer of the bank, you’re limited to (a certain amount) excluding the loan on your primary residence,” Fox said.
So the banker went across the street to Bruning State Bank, his competitor, for the loan.
“Broken Bow is a unique town,” Fox said. “We’ve got four, five banks, and we all get along just fine. It’s a friendly competition.”
Fox said the banker on the theater deal, Jim Scott, not only his is friend, but his wife works with Scott’s wife as a school teacher, and Scott’s family would frequent the theater. Many of the theater renovations were completed with volunteer work, and Scott was one of the volunteers.
“We feel it’s important we grow these rural communities,” Fox said, “and give people here the same opportunities they have in other communities. But we don’t want people to come here because it’s the only theater in Broken Bow. We want to earn their business.”