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Passing the torch: Ownership of the Comet Theater changes hands

Mathew Quincer, Pam Wasche Wilson, Joe Wasche Sr. and Dave Quincer (L-R) stand outside the Comet Theater. The Quincers recently bought the theater from the Wasche's. (Carter Jones/ FOCUS) 1 / 2
The Comet Theater circa 1965. (East Otter Tail History Museum) 2 / 2

A Perham icon is in new hands.

Last week, ownership of the Comet Theater passed from Pam Wasche Wilson and her husband Scott Wilson to Dave Quincer.

The Comet was originally built in the late 1920s as a JC Penney store, but was converted into a movie theater in 1938. When the theater was slated to close in 1971, Joe Wasche Sr. and wife Delores took over for a week. After a successful trial run, Joe and Delores bought the theater, where it's stayed in the family ever since.

Joe and Delores' daughter, Pam Wasche Wilson, said she grew up in the Comet. Wasche Wilson remembers running to the theater after school and cleaning it from the previous night's screening.

Wasche Wilson said the theater was her mom's baby, owing its current condition to her obsession with cleanliness.

"My mom was basically the PR part of it, and my dad was basically the behind the scenes guy, where he ran the projectors and did all the movie stuff," she said.

After her mom had a stroke four years ago, Wasche Wilson had to run the Comet, on top of operating the Park Theatre in Park Rapids.

Joe said Pam frequently told him she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown balancing the responsibilities of both theaters.

"There's a time comes in your life when you get tired and you figure you'll just as soon settle down for a bit," Joe said of the decision to sell the theater.

Wasche Wilson said it's a bittersweet thing to let the Comet go.

"It's just too much for me," she said.

Wasche Wilson offered the theater to Quincer, with the desire the theater would stay family-run.

"She was looking for someone that knew what they were doing, and would take care of the place like they have for so many years," Quincer said.

Quincer was honored to be asked to take over the Comet. His family has owned the Cozy Theater in Wadena since 1923.

"We knew they had been here for 40 something years, running the theater well, and they would trust us to take over for them," he said.

Wasche Wilson said she's glad to be passing the Comet onto another theater person and they're keeping it in their family.

Quincer said there was trepidation in expanding, because a movie theater is a business that really ties you down. Fortunately for Dave, his son, Mathew, is also involved with the family business.

Quincer says it's not always easy doing business with movie studios as an independent theater.

"The studios certainly pay more attention and do more favors for the bigger guys," Quincer said.

With the advent of digital projection, it's become much easier to get new releases into smaller towns, but the window is starting to shrink.

"We always try to give an experience which you can't get at home, which is harder and harder to do, because the studios seem to want to get their product into people's homes sooner and sooner," Quincer said.

In the heart of Perham

Although she's relieved to get a break, Wasche Wilson said she'll miss the customers and the theater's dedicated staff.

Over the decades, Wasche Wilson remembers "E.T." and "Titanic" being the biggest blockbusters to play at the Comet.

"Every person in town was going to that theater," she said.

Wasche Wilson said it's important to keep entertainment in the heart of Perham.

"People need to stay in town and patronize the businesses here," she said. "Movie theaters are icons, they're not going to go up like that anymore."

Quincer said any community that has a theater doesn't realize what an asset they are to the community until they're lost.

"It's a place for people to come together, have a communal experience, whether it's to laugh or cry or be entertained," he said. "There's something to be said for seeing a movie with a crowd of people and laughing."