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A place to call home: Bemidji Community Theater purchases former Book World building

Bemidji Community Theater has purchased the former Book World building in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—After nearly 40 years of making due with whatever locations they could find to store materials, rehearse and construct sets, the thespians of Bemidji Community Theater finally have found a home of their own.

As of Wednesday, the local theater group finalized the purchase of the former Book World building, located in downtown Bemidji next to the Chief Theater. The BCT uses the Chief Theater for their performances, and the next-door location will provide a convenient space for the group to prepare for various plays and store material as well as grow the organization.

"We knew that we were going to have to have some kind of space to physically grow," BCT Secretary Kristine Cannon said. "We are crammed to the gills in our storage unit; we've had to turn down donations of furniture because there was no place to put it."

The BCT received a low-interest U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Loan for the purchase. The amount of the loan was not disclosed.

According to Cannon, the group first began looking for a place of its own as early as 2014. They received a grant for a feasibility study to see if and where they potentially could purchase a building. Around that time, the former Book World building became available.

"Now we have a theater district in Bemidji," Cannon said, referring to the BCT's building being next door to the Chief Theater.

As a tenant, BCT doesn't have exclusive right to the Chief Theater until 21 days before any given series of performances. Because of that, they've often had to make due at other locations until they could fully move into the downtown theater.

They'd house props and costumes in storage units or in home basements, and they'd rent space at BSU to begin set construction before hauling it over to the Chief in pieces.

They'd also have to rehearse in other locations. Throughout the years, BCT has rehearsed in places such as Headwaters Music and Arts, Rail River Folk School, St. Philips Catholic Church, BSU and even the basement of Brigid's Pub.

"You never know where you're going to be from one day to the next," said Mary Knox-Johnson, a board member and director. "Even within a three-day rehearsal, we may be at BSU one day and at the Chief two days or vice versa. This should simplify things."

Outside of the actual performances, which will continue at the Chief Theater, the new location should have sufficient space for BCT's various needs. The building contains approximately 17,000 square feet, which includes the main floor, an equal floor space in the basement, as well as various offshoot rooms for storage, costume making or other needs.

There also are two mezzanines covered up at some point in the building's history. The long-term goal is to reopen the mezzanines to have access to the building's full, original square footage.

The space also will provide an area for other BCT projects, such as classes, workshops, and its youth camp, BCT Junior, which is held in the summer.

The fact that it's right next door to the Chief is an added benefit.

"I love being at the Chief, I love that space," Knox-Johnson said. "I don't ever see it taking the place of that; I see it as being an extension of that."

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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