Regal Entertainment Group Closes Nickelodeon Cinemas

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 10/16/12

Last Thursday night the curtain may have closed for good on the Nickelodeon Cinemas.

Over its 40-year life span, the movie theater has witnessed the highs of show business—such as in May 1984 when patrons lined up more than two hours early to catch a pair of sold-out showings of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” on opening night—and the lows, like the nearly five-year stretch in the early 1990s when Hoyts Cinemas, the previous owner, shut it down due to poor sales.

Last week the theater’s current owners, Regal Entertainment Group, elected to close it once again. Russ Nunley, vice president of marketing and communications for Regal, said the decision “was brought on by not being able to sustain a theater where box office receipts had been declining.”

Added pressure to convert its projectors from 35-mm to digital, he said, did not make it financially viable to keep the theater open.

That means the 2.94-acre property, assessed by the town at $823,600, is now back on the market. It is being listed for $575,000. Listing agent James Vaccaro said it is being sold with a restriction that the buyer cannot use the 9,600-square-foot facility as a movie theater. The property is in a B2 zone and could be converted to housing, a church, school, performing arts center, entertainment venue, restaurant, office showroom or warehouse, according to the real estate listing.

Last year it was initially listed for sale at $900,000 before that price was lowered to $600,00 in January, when the company lifted its original restriction that would have allowed a buyer to show art films there. Regal later pulled the property off the market, Mr. Vaccaro said, until this week when it began looking to move the parcel off its books once again.

Inauspicious Beginning

It first opened in 1972 when Joel A. and Henrietta Tranum and Murro E. and Joanne Van Meter opened Nickelodeon Cinemas to the public to show art films, foreign films and classics that are typically not shown this side of the bridge.

The foursome had wanted to open the theater during the 4th of July that year, only there was a slight glitch: the seats had not been delivered in time, forcing Mr. Tranum to fly out to Michigan and drive them from the manufacturer back to 742 Nathan Ellis Highway in a rented U-Haul truck. A few days later, on July 7, six people came to watch the first movie ever shown at the Nickelodeon Cinemas, the Charlie Chaplin classic “Gold Rush,” which was missing the first and last reels. Only the middle reel had been sent to the theater.

It is a shame. I think it is very poor judgment and another one of those corporate decisions based on greed and profit.

                                        Gordon Willis

While the Nickelodeon got off to a rocky start, it did well enough to add a second screen in 1976 and three smaller screens in 1983. By that time, the owners had changed their business model to include more mainstream fare in addition to independent cinema.

In 1986, the Nickelodeon was sold to Interstate Theatres, which turned over the property to Hoyts Cinema Corporation two years later. Citing poor sales, the company closed the Nickelodeon in September 1990, a move that was intended to last only through the winter.

The company had tried to sell the theater in 1992, although it was unsuccessful in those efforts. Nearly five years later, in April 1995, Hoyts reopened the Nickelodeon to patrons. It did so with the intention of returning to the theater’s roots: showing alternatives to the Hollywood blockbusters.

Regal purchased the Nickelodeon in February 2003 as part of a 52-theater acquisition in the northeast that included those at the Mashpee Commons and the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis.

Owning 522 theaters with 6,610 screens, Mr. Nunley said Regal is the largest movie theater chain in the country. Of those, 10 theaters with 118 screens are based in Massachusetts.

This year, Mr. Nunley said that Regal has opened nine new theaters, more than it has closed.

Programming Choices Made At Corporate Level

With one of those closed being the Nickelodeon, Mr. Nunley would not say whether its theaters in Mashpee or Hyannis would mix in more independent movies with its standard showings. Those decisions, he said, are made at the corporate level where Regal’s film department analyzes box office figures from the previous weekend to make recommendations on what should be shown during the upcoming one.

Admittedly, he said, the independent films that the Nickelodeon was known for tend to be shown in more urban areas. “Where there is a higher concentration of population, people are exposed to a greater variety of restaurants, retail shops, film, everything,” Mr. Nunley said.

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If that is the case, then Judith Laster, executive producer of the Woods Hole Film Festival, said, movie patrons on the Cape will have lost out. “In the long term it is bad for the community,” she said. “Hopefully the Woods Hole Film Festival can step up its efforts to fill in the void to increase the programming of independent film.”

She said she sees the loss of art house cinemas like the Nickelodeon as part of a larger trend, noting that many are turning to a nonprofit model in order to survive. Doing that at the Nickelodeon could work, she said, as long as it was a multi-cultural, multi-use type of facility. “I don’t think it could sustain itself with just one kind of programming,” she said.

While not surprised with the Nickelodeon’s closing, she was saddened that it had to shutter its doors.

There was a similar reaction from Falmouth’s Gordon H. Willis, the cinematographer for the “Godfather” trilogy, “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan,” who often visited the Nickelodeon with his wife, Helen Willis.

“It is a shame,” he said. “I think it is very poor judgment and another one of those corporate decisions based on greed and profit.”

He was frustrated to see the direction that film was headed toward, noting that the Nickelodeon’s closing will only leave Cape residents shortchanged. “Indie films are traditionally more interesting movies and they are disappearing because of money,” he said. “Audiences are being slighted by theaters running box office smashes.... You have no selection. I think it is important to keep the public exposed to good filmmakers.”

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