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New owners of Webster Theater look forward to being part of community

October 12, 2012
Anne Blankenship ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

The Webster Theater has a long and continuous history in Webster City and the new owner are looking to continue that tradition.

Than and Sarah Mott took possession of the movie house in June. They also purchased the Metropolitan Theater in Iowa Falls. Both have logged several years in the movie business and even met while working at an Iowa theater.

"I worked at a theater in Bismark, N.D.," said Sarah Mott. "It was my fun job."

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Than and Sarah Mott are the new owners of the Webster Theater and the Iowa Falls Metropolitan Theater.

She moved to Iowa to attend college. She was living and working in Oskaloosa when she went to work at the theater there.

"I got the janitor position," she said. That's where she met her future husband, the owner of the theater. The two became engaged, married and now have a daughter, Evelyn.

The couple had the opportunity to buy the Webster Theater and the Iowa Falls theater. They were interested in the Iowa Falls movie house - located in Than Mott's hometown. The former owners, Big Time Cinema decided to throw the Webster City theater into that package.

"When I saw the Webster Theater, I said 'yes, absolutely,'" Sarah Mott said.

Than has been working in the movie industry since 2000 when he began working with Fridley Theaters.

"I ran the theater in Iowa Falls for a while and ran Manchester for two years," he said. He was then sent to Boone and ran that theater for a year. He returned to Iowa Falls and managed the Metropolitan for Fridley theaters until 2006. The Iowa Falls and Webster City theaters were later split off from the Fridley enterprise and Than Mott managed the local theater for a short time until Big Time Cinema bought the properties.

"They kind of got me in the purchase of the two theaters," he said. "For a while, I was running five theaters for them - Clarion, Webster City, Iowa Falls, Boone and Perry."

He later purchased the Oskaloosa theater.

"I figured if I'm going to put in the effort, I might as well being doing it for myself," he said.

But when the opportunity arose to get back to Iowa Falls and Webster City, the couple sold the Oskaloosa movie house back to the Fridley Company.

"I like these two towns," Than Mott said.

Originally, Sarah Mott was going to be her husband's assistant in Iowa Falls. The staff at the Webster Theater seemed to able to run the place. But after several employees quit, Sarah Mott stepped up as the manager in Webster City.

"Once I started running this theater, I knew this town was awesome," she said.

"Everyone here is extremely friendly," Than Mott said.

Since the purchase in June, the Motts said they have had kind of a tough time with the purchase. There were having difficulties closing on the sale, but the Motts told Big Time Cinema they would continue making payments. A threat of eviction from the former owners followed which would have likely resulted in the closing of the local movie house.

"We were preparing to shut the doors. Then we got the papers that said they had filed bankruptcy," Sarah Mott said. Big Time Cinema reportedly filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in July or August.

"We had no idea they had done that," Than Mott said.

"The banks told us to just keep on running the theaters," she said.

The couple said working through details of the sale has meant that upgrades to the theaters have been put on hold for a while. They are currently running 35mm films with the hopes of converting to digital equipment as soon as possible. Sarah Mott said the availability of 35mm films is quite limited for small town theaters.

In a recent Facebook post, Sarah Mott explained the situation with the purchase of the theaters. She also thanked the public for its patience and continued support.

"I am also thanking all of you for the massive increase in business to the Webster Theater. It is currently at the highest it's been in the last five years, even with the lack of availability in films. You are the reason we are pursuing the theater industry so heavily in Webster City. You have heightened my hope and inspiration for what I do, and I can't wait to repay you with our improvements," Sarah Mott posted on Facebook.

The couple decided to find creative ways to bring in customers. They decided to hold some community events, starting with a special activity tomorrow. They are holding a decorating party in the Webster Theater lobby. The Motts are inviting local residents to bring in any old or extra decorations to help give the lobby a Halloween atmosphere. People can loan the decorations or donate them to the theater. Those who donate decorations will receive a free admission pass.

"Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m., we're encouraging people to come down and help us decorate," Sarah Mott said. The theater will have $1 bags of popcorn and $2 sodas during the event.

Other events are planned as the holiday season approaches, she said.

"We just want to have fun little get-togethers," she said. "These communities don't want to lose their theaters. I told Than we needed to open the theaters up to the community. We thought decorating parties would be a lot of fun."

"There are a lot of alternatives we will be able to do once we get digital," Than Mott said.

The next film on the screen will be "The Campaign," a comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis.



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