Small theater in Michigan brings community together (and I get to work with my grandmother)


THREE OAKS, Mich. — Stepping down a cobblestone street of this small village in the southwest corner of the state, the maroon movie theater sign flashed up ahead. Go through the transparent glass doors, and the lobby is filled with the smell of freshly buttered popcorn.

“When people walk into the theater and sit down, they talk to their neighbors and read the regular monthly program which lists the monthly movies and reviews,” said Judy Scully, owner of the Vickers Theatre (and my grandmother). “It shows a sense of community, and I love that about this theater.”

My grandpa, an avid movie watcher, battled Parkinson’s disease for more than 40 years. Eight years ago, when he learned that the Vickers Theatre was up for sale, he decided it would be a fun adventure for him and his wife to run the movie theater, with its intimate auditorium seating 126.

“It gave him an immediate sense of community and made him feel young and confident again,” said Judy Scully.

Since the age of nine, I have worked for my grandmother in the concessions at the Vickers whenever I visit Michigan. There are no words to describe my experience other than love and passion. Who knew a job could be such a blast? 

Every month, the Vickers offers a free movie to the community. The films include topics such as immigration, the environment and politics. After each film, discussions are held among the audience members. This summer, I watched “Celling Your Soul,” which is about the excessive use of cell phones by all ages. The audience discussion was lively and interesting. Two teachers spoke about their concerns regarding phone usage among high school students.

“For some of  the popular movies, like ‘Ruth Bader Ginsburg’ and ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor,’ we put several folding chairs in,” said Scully. “Therefore, everyone can enjoy the experience.”

Although the Pelham Picture House is double the size of the Vickers, the same sense of community spirit can be felt there.

“There is nothing like the energy of a historical movie theater full of an audience watching the latest well-made film,” said Clay Bushong, director of programming, marketing and theater operations at the Picture House. “A community of film and story lovers that agree on the premise that watching a film as a group amplifies the experience.”

Bushong has given my grandmother helpful advice to benefit running her theater. Both are passionate about their local theaters. 

“I love the process of choosing the movies for our theater,” said Scully. “I go to film festivals and end up choosing many of the films I watch. One good movie can change their life, and I love the opportunity that we can do that for people.”