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Bob Moore, best known for transforming East Grand Forks movie theater, remembered as visionary entrepreneur

Where other saw hopeless deterioration, the East Grand Forks businessman saw potential -- and knew how to make his vision a reality

Bob Moore.png
Bob Moore, who died suddenly Feb. 10, sparked East Grand Forks downtown development by building an entertainment venue in the Riverwalk Center mall.
Submitted photo

EAST GRAND FORKS — Bob Moore, a successful East Grand Forks businessman, is remembered for his generosity, love of family, and as a visionary entrepreneur who was able to see potential opportunities and turn them into reality.

Moore, who owned the River Cinema movie theaters and Riverwalk Center mall in East Grand Forks, died from a massive stroke Feb. 10 at a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, medical center.

A “celebration of life” is planned for 12:30-3:30 p.m. March 19 at the Boardwalk Banquet Hall in East Grand Forks. It will be a time for everyone “to come and share your favorite Bob story,” said his daughter, Penny Stai. “Everybody I talk to seems to have a Bob story.”

Jeff Hatcher, who helped Moore renovate the Riverwalk Center mall and other construction projects, is one of them.

“We basically built the mall together,” recalled Hatcher, who worked for years to renovate the facility, installing tile and carpeting in the mall and reclining seats in the mall theaters and doing “anything that needed remodeling.”

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Remembering Moore, he said, “He always wanted to help out — that type of guy that would give his shirt off his back. He was a giving guy, that’s for darn sure.”

Hatcher last worked with him a few days before his death, so hearing of his passing “was a total shock,” he said. “I’m definitely going to miss him. He was a big part of my life.”

Moore was probably best known for the remarkable development of the River Cinema 15 theaters several years ago, and more recently The Shire Bar and Grill, a movie-themed restaurant with seating for 75 patrons, in the Riverwalk mall.

When Moore first visited the mall, “he knew he could develop it into an amazing entertainment venue as a movie theater complex,” said East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander. “I remember experts in the movie business telling Bob that the vertical height of the ceiling would not allow for the placement of a full-sized screen. Bob knew better. He planned out the excavation and construction, and today we see that his vision was crystal clear.”

Moore also understood the importance of customer service, Gander said. “Every element he built into his business was customer-oriented — from spacious and comfortable theater seating to free refills on soda, Bob knew what the customer wanted and he delivered.”

Illinois transplants

Moore moved his family from Illinois to Minnesota in 1979, because “he wanted a better place for his kids to grow up,” Stai said. In Blackduck, Minnesota, her father owned a restaurant and movie theater and later bought and refurbished movie theaters in Fosston and Crookston, Minnesota. The family moved to East Grand Forks 14 years ago.

Family was her father’s highest priority, Stai said. “Above and beyond business, family was first.”

Married for 53 years, and starting out “with nothing,” Bob and Jan Moore “never left each other’s side,” Stai said. “He loved her so much, anything and everything was for my mom — and that’s why he built all these businesses, to take care of her.”

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Stai and her brother Brian Moore purchased the Riverwalk mall two years ago and continue to work on remodeling projects there. Another brother Kevin Moore bought the Fosston theater.

Stai, her brothers and sister Robin “have all worked for him our whole lives,” she said. Aside from putting family above all, they learned to “be generous, be kind, question everything, and take care of your mother.”

Moore had no formal education beyond high school; he learned construction, plumbing, roofing and electrical skills and knowledge from others with experience and by endless reading, Stai said. “He was incredibly intelligent.”

“He didn’t think inside the box — everything he looked at could be different,” she said. “He had these huge ideas and these big dreams all the time. … He loved to remodel old buildings and make them beautiful. He looked at the (Riverwalk) mall and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this place has so much potential.’ …

“The mall was quite horrible when we got it … And now it’s pretty amazing,” she said, “and the work’s not even done yet, but it looks really good now, compared to what it did. And he did that with houses, he did it with buildings, businesses.”

A ‘great mentor’

Sandi Luck, owner of Bully Brew coffee shops, praised Moore for taking time to talk with her about her business ideas or acquiring real estate for new coffee shop locations.

He was a “great mentor,” she said, and “quite the influencer for me for a lot of things that I’ve done in the business world. He was a pretty big part of my life.”

Luck met Moore when he was redeveloping a former bank building into a coffee shop, Coffee Corner, in downtown East Grand Forks, she said. She walked in, introduced herself, and asked about his plans for the place.

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“I said, ‘After you get tired of doing this, you can sell it to me,’” she recalled with a laugh. “ ‘I want this location; it’s so awesome.’ And that was the beginning of the relationship.”

While he owned Coffee Corner, he bought roasted beans from Bully Brew. Then, after a year or so, he sold the business to her.

Over the years, Luck could always turn to him for “real-world suggestions,” she said. “He gave me tons of advice. … He taught me so much — he didn’t have to; he didn’t have to spend that time doing that. He was very busy, he had a lot of things going on.”

When she began to consider, for the first time, buying property for a new Bully Brew location, Moore offered valuable advice on how to purchase real estate, she said.

Luck tries to emulate the traits in Moore she most admired.

“I look at people who I work with and think, I want to be like them — and I used to tell him that, I’ll make sure I give back like you’ve given to me,” she said, noting that mentors likely hope that kindnesses they’ve shown will be passed along.

“He was a very special man,” Luck said.

“Many people were very blessed to have him in their lives, and I don’t take that for granted. He taught me many valuable lessons.”

‘Knew how to make things happen’

Moore’s contributions to the growth and development of East Grand Forks stand out as an extraordinary accomplishment, especially in contrast to the days when the downtown mall was aptly labeled a “white elephant”.

Paul Gorte, economic development director for East Grand Forks, said Moore “really put a lot of effort into downtown EGF, and he will be very much missed.”

Gorte met Moore about seven years ago when the latter was taking initial steps to purchase the mall, after renovating the theaters there.

Moore was a visionary in the sense that “he could see where things were going,” Gorte said. He could spot opportunities and “he knew how to turn them into reality. He knew how to make things happen.

“He was able to see through issues to do what is necessary to get things done (and) he knew the importance of doing things well.”

When Moore was preparing for the opening of The Shire Bar and Grill in the mall a few months ago, for example, Gorte said, “he took extra time to make sure it was done right, that it would open well despite difficulties of working through the pandemic.”

‘Crystal clear’ vision

Mayor Gander said Moore was “a visionary who took action even as he kept his feet firmly planted on the ground, and Bob finished what he started. While some people can dream big dreams and never get off the couch, Bob got to work.

“Bob had a way of seeing opportunities and efficient ways of doing things that others may have missed, which allowed him to complete the work according to his plan.”

The quiet generosity Moore showed “to everyone he met was a foundational part of who he was,” Gander said. “His kind treatment of all the businesses in the Riverwalk Center through the pandemic was evidence of that.”

Building his businesses, “with lots of help from Jan and their kids, was really for them — knowing that he set his family up to have future success was very important to him,” Gander said.

“And by all accounts, they understand serving people as well as he did, so the likelihood is that his legacy will live on through them.”

Related Topics: EAST GRAND FORKS
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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