Lights Dimming On Sunnyside Movie Theater’s Run

Sunnyside residents with only their Netflix and their tears.

Will Sunnyside residents be left with only Netflix and tears? (flickr)

Despite the prevalence of iphones and macbook pros and the endless stream of streaming devices, the retro-loving hipsters of Kings county still love going to the movies. Williamsburg has welcomed two new movie theaters in as many years—Nitehawk and Williamsburg Cinemas. There are video bars/screening rooms (Videology) and resurrected video stores retooled as hubs of film culture (Video Free Brooklyn) and owners pouring cash ($1.8 million into aging, much-maligned Pavilion Theater in Park Slope).

The borough of Queens, however, is not faring so well. The Sunnyside Post reports that Sunnyside Center Cinema’s days are limited as a new owner has bought the building on the corner of Queens Boulevard and 43rd Street. The new owner has not announced plans for the building, but it’s most likely a teardown as the annual income of $326,000 barely covers the debt servicing. The Cinema’s lease runs through December 2014.

“It’s a neighborhood theater and I wanted to keep it,” Rudy Prashad told the Sunnyside Post. “It’s a place where working families can take their kids to the movies and not spend too much.”

The theater, while it lacked the bigger, flashier style of a Manhattan multiplex, is the only one in the neighborhood. New York’s small, neighborhood theaters are a dying breed in general, replaced, when and if they are replaced, by a smaller smattering of chain theaters with stadium seating.

Between 2001 and 2002, the city lost 22 percent of its cinemas, according to a story in The Real Deal that delved into many of the difficulties theater owners face if and when they have to move. Manhattan was particularly hard hit, losing 11 of its 41 theaters. Last summer, there were even rumors that the spectacular Ziegfeld might close its doors—the immaculately-maintained movie palace has struggled to remain profitable as an enormous single-screen theater.

When Washington Heights Coliseum Cinemas closed, a group of film buff residents banded together to try to re-open it last year, a task that the 600-volunteer corps has thus far failed to achieve.

There are also fears that the days of Chelsea Clearview Cinemas, whose building was purchased last year, might also be limited (the theater is still operating). Across the United States, movie attendance continues to decline (the average American went to the movies just six times last year); in 2012, per-person attendance slipped to a 25-year low.

With declining revenues, even as the price of movie tickets continues to rise (it’s now pushing $20 for 3-D movies—the industry’s headache-inducing great hope), given the extreme development pressure in New York, Sunnyside Center Cinemas will probably not be the last movie theater that will be forced to close its curtains for good in the coming years.

kvelsey@observer.com