By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer
Sally and Scott Fisher moved to Big Sky in 2007, recognizing how special the area was, with plenty of opportunity for growth. The couple wasn’t sure what they wanted to do in the area in the long term, but the idea of owning a movie theater came to them on a long drive to visit Sally’s family in Tennessee.
They knew the owners of the movie theaters in Aspen and Telluride, so they began having conversations with them about the idea of opening one up in Big Sky and things snowballed from there. They opened the doors of Lone Peak Cinema on Nov. 19, 2011. They currently employ six individuals, of whom Jerome Martin has worked for the Fishers since day one.
As part of this ongoing series, Sally and Scott shared their thoughts with EBS about what it takes to make it as small business owners in Big Sky.
Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?
Lone Peak Cinema: We aren’t going to call it a success just yet; we still have a long way to go. We work long hours, and the first two years we continued working other jobs, so we would not have to pay ourselves. We have to be innovative and creative with our business especially in the shoulder seasons. We have seen most of our growth happen because of our special events like HorrorFest in the Fall and The Big Sky Shootout in the Spring as well as Trivia Nights every Friday.
EBS: Do you remember your first customer?
L.P.C.: The first night we opened was for a [Teton Gravity Research] ski movie premiere. It was such a fun night! All of our friends were eager to be there and support us. Officially, Scott was the first customer. He bought a small soda to make sure our credit card processing would work.
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
L.P.C.: Operating a movie theater with 211 seats takes a big space. Paying rent on a huge space in the Town Center is tough. Big Sky still has a lot of growing to do in order to make businesses sustainable. We need more people through the door on a year-round basis.
EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?
L.P.C.: In 2011, it seemed like the theater building was an island sitting all alone. Grizzly Outfitters was across the street and the China Café was down the block. There were no buildings neighboring us. We would have nights where no one came to see a movie, and out on the streets it seemed like a ghost town. It is amazing how much [livelier] the Town Center has become with great restaurants and shopping—all of which helps our business tremendously.
EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?
L.P.C.: There is something incredibly special about Big Sky. It is a mountain resort town in the middle of wilderness and national forest where it is not easy to live. The people who do settle down here all have their love for the mountains, outdoor activities, and cold weather in common. It is such a wonderful community and landscape that there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not wowed.
EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?
L.P.C.: In Big Sky something amazing or fun happens every week if not every day. A moment that will always stick out in my memory happened several years ago while taking out the trash at the end of the night. It was one of the first nights of hunting season; I had just locked up. There were no cars in the parking lot out back. Brent Philippi was the only other person around; he was taking out the trash from Ousel and Spur. All of the sudden we heard hooves clicking on the pavement. There was a huge buck leading 6 does. They were majestically strolling straight through town as the snow was lightly falling. Moments like that make living and working in Big Sky truly unique.
EBS: Are there creative ways you have approached operating a movie theater?
L.P.C.: Yes! We have a full bar! The bar is our bread and butter. We knew that we would not make it selling movie tickets and popcorn alone. That is why our special events and trivia nights are so important to our overall success.
EBS: What was a business idea that didn’t work?
L.P.C.: For a couple summers, we tried showing cartoons on Saturdays before our normal operating hours. It did not work, but the people who came loved it.
We also tried free Throwback Thursday movies, but got into some trouble with film distribution companies.
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
L.P.C.: Work hard and take your successes and failures one day at a time.
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
L.P.C.: Stay open as much as you can in the shoulder seasons. It benefits other businesses and helps us grow as a town. There is so much room for growth.
EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?
L.P.C.: We would love to keep seeing growth from our HorrorFest Film Festival in conjunction with Haunted Peaks, as well as introducing another town film festival. We also would love to introduce a monthly independent film series and a film club.
Also, it is key to work with other Town Center Businesses to get visitors from Big Sky Resort to come down to the town for dinner, shopping, and movies.
EBS: Where do you see Big Sky in 20 years?
L.P.C.: Big Sky has so much potential, and it is really exciting to see so many people who love this place working hard to develop it in a sustainable way. In 20 years, I would love to see more people who work in Big Sky living in Big Sky with their families.