Owner Nicolas Nicolaou had one final shot at saving his theater, which has been losing money for the last seven years, with the screening of the Oscar-nominated American Sniper.
The last time Nicolaou showed a first-run movie was in 2008, when the theater had sold out showings of the Sex and the City movie.
But to be able to show new releases again, Nicolaou had to invest in new digital projectors and convince Hollywood to give his theater priority for first-run movies.
To his luck, and to the benefit of the entire Forest Hills community, Warner Bros. gave him a shot with American Sniper, with the entire future of the theater dependent on last weekend’s sales.
The community did their part, selling out shows all weekend, lining up by the hundreds outside the ticket window and forcing the theater to cancel some of their showings of other movies in order to accommodate the high demand.
“We made a point to come here,” said Jim Miller, who grew up in Richmond Hill and brought his wife, Cecile, to see the movie.
“It’s been around since I was a kid, so for nostalgia if nothing else, but also there aren’t too many little theaters left,” he said.
“I believe it is an important part of the community,” Cecile said. “This theater is the only one, because the one on Austin Street closed.”
Brandon Cinemas, formerly located on Austin Street, was another small theater in Forest Hills that closed in April of 2014.
Nicolaou did not want to see his theater, which was built in 1927, fall to the same fate. He began working at Cinemart in the 1970s, when his grandmother was the owner.
Many local residents felt the same way, according to Cinemart manager George Pova, who said he was “amazed” at the amount of people who came out over the weekend to support the theater.
“A lot of people said, ‘We’ll support you no matter what, we don’t want you to close down.’ The owner was happy,” Pova said on Sunday night.
Pova explained that he knows that for Nicolaou, saving Cinemart is not about profit.
“I know it’s not about the money,” Pova said. “He’s been losing money for seven years. The last time we had a sold-out show here was 2008. But now we’re back on track where you see sold-out shows, it’s amazing.”
And with movie tickets ranging from $6 to $9 and a small popcorn running at $3, it is nearly impossible to beat the prices this small theater offers. Nearby theaters in Astoria and Glendale sell tickets for $14 or more.
Local advocate and member of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council Michael Perlman strongly believes in the necessity of the theater — a belief that led to his beginning a social media campaign two weeks ago to bring as many local residents out to the theater as he could.
Through the Cinemart Cinemas Preservation Campaign, Perlman sent out thousands of emails and Facebook posts, met with residents at the theater and reached out to the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, elected officials and Forest Hills Gardens Corporation (FHGC).
Subsequently, the FHGC sent out a mass email to their membership encouraging them to attend this past weekend’s screenings.
Perlman explained that there are a number of reasons for his interest in saving Cinemart.
“First and foremost, I’m very passionate about historic preservation matters in Forest Hills and Rego Park, and I always prioritize for historic theaters, especially because there are so few historic theaters that are still standing today,” he said.
But, as is the case for many, Perlman also has a bit of nostalgia for the old movie theater.
“I went there as a child as well,” he said. “I’m a native Forest Hills resident. I remember I went there for my friend’s birthday party and it was a memorable time.”
In addition to his social media campaign, Perlman said he also contacted some architects who are now interested in evaluating and possibly restoring some of the old features of the cinema.
First, Pova said that Nicolaou will speak with movie executives in L.A. sometime this week to go over the sales numbers and work out future showings.
But Nicolaou assured that with the huge turnout last weekend, all immediate plans for closure are out the door, and Cinemart will live on for, hopefully, another 85 years.