Success stories

Rialto Theater

Grayling, Michigan

Not only has it operated continuously for a century, the Rialto has always been owned by the Stancil family. It is probably the oldest family-run theater in the United States.

Owned and operated by Jordan Stancil, the Rialto Theater is a first-run cinema in downtown Grayling. Stancil’s great-grandfather opened the Rialto in 1915 to provide a state-of-the-art entertainment experience.

Vintage Rialto.

The theater’s original building was destroyed by fire in 1930 and was rebuilt with many Art Deco details. It featured plush carpeting and upholstery and the latest projection and sound equipment. For decades, the Rialto was a prosperous business and a bedrock for the downtown retail community.

Over the years, the movie theater industry faced many pressures. Direct competition came from television, home videos, movies on demand, and computer use. Ticket sales suffered. Then, movie production houses switched formats from film to digital which meant a cinema required new equipment to show any new releases.

By 2013, the Rialto Theater needed capitalization to survive and an offensive strategy to thrive. Jordan Stancil became the next owner in the legacy. He exchanged his Foreign Service experience and university teaching job for a small town, family-owned theater – a theater that needed a digital projector, an upgraded sound system, new seats, renovated concession and lobby areas and refurbished historic paintwork.

Rialto in winter.

Jordan knew that capitalization required a multi-level approach. It started with an owner investment, then a goal-busting Kickstarter campaign. Jordan still needed a significant portion of the financing, but the project did not meet traditional lending criteria. However, a loan officer introduced him to a Northern Initiatives lender who recognized the potential in Jordan’s projections. She agreed the Rialto Theater could reclaim its positive business position and benefit rural development in the process.

Today, despite exceeding projections, the Rialto still faces challenges. The local population is under 2,000, competition for an entertainment dollar is fierce, and downtown Grayling is undergoing revitalization. However, last fiscal year, the Theater brought at least 100 people to the main street ecosystem on 90 separate days. This metric is evidence that Jordan’s strategy is working and that his commitment to his great-grandfather’s vision is clear.

Rialto Theatre Impacts:

  • Jobs Created & Retained: 1 Full-time, 4 Part-time


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