Rochester Magazine: How hot was the CineMagic Chester the Dragon costume?
Mitch Stevenson: Oh, It could get pretty dusty in there. I wore it a few times. I didn’t make a habit of it, but if they were in a clutch, I had to wear it. I remember at RochesterFest one day, somebody was like, “Mitch, I feel so sorry for that kid in that costume. How do you choose who wears that suit?” I said, “Whoever ticked me off last night wears that suit.” But we had one guy that was really good.
RM: Almost, what, 30 years in the movie theater business?
MS: I started working part-time taking tickets at a theater when I was at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. I was working on music education. Do you have any idea what instrument put me through college?
RM: I would guess tuba. Because I know that.
MS: That’s exactly what. But most people don’t know that. When they see a Black guy they think drums. Or saxophone. No one ever guesses it because every tuba player they know is a white guy.
RM: Then you got that part-time job at the movie theater.
MS: And I moved up the ranks. ... I transferred to the University of Central Arkansas because of the movie theater business. By the time I came here in 1994, I was a city manager. We had the Galleria Six, we had the Barkley Square Six, we had the Apache Four, and we had Cinema Three.
RM: Why did you leave the theaters [in 2008]?
MS: It was really getting to be a rough time in my life. I was going through some personal things. I was overweight. I was pretty miserable. Bit of what you’d call a midlife crisis. I just kind of had enough. I got an offer from Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, and spent three years there. Then I contracted for some more theater stuff.
RM: And now?
MS: Now, I’m 55. So I consider myself kind of semi-retired. I work two days, I’m off a day; I work three days, I’m off a day.
RM: At Trader Joe’s?
MS: I love it. If you think they treat their customers well, you should see how they treat their employees.
RM: How did you meet Nuryia [Mukhtasimova, pictured]?
MS: Trader Joe’s! Another bonus of working there! We’ve been dating three years. She’s a biophysicist at Mayo. A research doctor. She’s amazing. Her kids are amazing.
RM: And you have a son?
MS: Well, I would say I have one-and-a-half kids. Louis was four years old when I married his mom, my ex-wife. So Louis is my stepson. He’s 28. My son Spencer is 24. So proud of them.
RM: So Philippians 1:3.
MS: How do you know that? ... Like, what is this?
RM: I do my research.
MS: It’s “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Over the years I moved around a lot and friends have come and gone out of my life. That verse is kind of how I’ve always signed of with friends.
RM: Give me one Rochester tie.
MS: George Thompson [longtime community leader and former executive director of the Diversity Council] has been such a crucial part of my life. When I got here I set up a meeting with him and I said, “It’s a tradition in the Black community down South that an older gentleman in the community will take a young man under his wings. I have noticed what you do in the community. I would just like to ask you that from time to time if I need to sit down and talk with somebody, could it be you?” He said, “Of course.” And that’s how our friendship got started.
RM: I have to ask about the documentary you were interviewed for.
MS: I’m from Hawkins, Texas. In 1986, three of my friends were abducted and murdered. ... I got a call in November of last year to be interviewed for a show they were doing on it [from the true-crime network Investigation Discovery]. It was really something to go back to my old high school, and to talk about those things. It was cathartic for me and my friends to help people remember those lives we lost. And it just reconnected me with so many people from my small town. And so many people here reached out after they saw it.
RM: That must have been a devastating time.
MS: It was. But it was important to relive it. To remember them.
RM: You moved up here in 1991.
MS: Yeah. I got to Minnesota two weeks before the Halloween Blizzard of ‘91. That first night of that blizzard, I was driving limos part-time. I lived in Madison Lake, right by Mankato. I had no idea about snowdrifts, so I ended up in a ditch. This was before we had cell phones. It’s like 2:00 in the morning... So I walk about a quarter of a mile and I knock on this door and finally, some people come to the door. And I’m in my tuxedo. And I said, “I just went into a ditch. I’m sorry to disturb you. I don’t need anything; I’m going to go back to my car, but can you call my roommate to let him know I’m not dead?” And they said, “Hey, young man.” They had a big old shop out back, and they said, “You can go in there, the door’s not locked. There’s a sofa and there’s quilts. Lay down there until morning and you’ll be fine.” And I’m like, “Really?” Because that blew my mind that white people would let a guy at 2:00 in the morning go sleep in their shop, and so I did. A few minutes later, a guy comes out and he goes, “Why don’t you come on into the house.” And so they take me in ... and they let me stay. ... I wake up the next morning, they had pulled my car out of the ditch. They made me breakfast. That was my first real experience of Minnesota. And I’ve been here ever since.