March 2, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: City without theaters
By Jeff Rapsis

This week’s cover story on the Oscars got me thinking about movies.

Nashua is notable for a lot of things, but not for its movie theaters.
In fact, it’s the largest city anywhere that I can think of which doesn’t have a single operating theater within its borders. Films are shown at the Nashua Public Library, which is great, but it’s not the same as a true movie theater.
Yes, there’s a cinema complex in Tyngsboro, Mass., just over the state line. And yes, there’s Cinemagic in Merrimack, a new stadium multiplex, and other theaters in Londonderry and Derry and the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton.

But in Nashua, there’s zip. With the closure of the four-plex at the Nashua Mall a few years ago, and also the shuttering of the Brandt Cinema on Main Street, we’re out of the movie business entirely.

It wasn’t always this way. Nashua’s downtown, like many others its size, was once home to a number of single-screen movie houses. Some were converted stage theaters, while others were built specifically to be cinemas.

But they all showed movies and were a big part of what made downtown Nashua the region’s center for many years. The State, the Colonial, the Park, the Daniel Webster—in their time, they all played an important part in the city’s quality of life.

And now they’re all gone, victims of changing times and economic patterns. Single-screen movie houses aren’t commercially viable. So what used to be the Park is now a parking lot at the corner of Court Street and Main Street. The Daniel Webster Cinema is now part of Martha’s Exchange, and so on.

The only one of Nashua’s downtown cinemas in which any kind of the structure actually remains intact is what was for many years the State Cinema on Main Street.

By the time I was growing up in Nashua, the State had been rechristened the Star Cinema and was the home of bargain-basement films at the end of their runs.

I recall seeing the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me there when it was first released in the late 1970s, and just before the end, the film jammed in the projector and caught on fire. The audience erupted—my mind may be playing tricks, but I recall someone throwing a potted plant through the screen.

Today the Star is home to a cabinet shop and perhaps some other businesses—I’m not sure how the space may have been divided up, but it’s at least intact in some way.

It’s doubtful the Star or State could ever be resurrected without a lot of effort. But Nashua has few choices. Unlike many other cities, not one of our old movie houses managed to survive into the modern era in a state that would allow it to be reborn.

Still, the concept of a downtown movie theater is a powerful one that keeps popping up. Right now, a few citizens are looking into the possibility of screening classic films somewhere in downtown Nashua—possibly in a downtown space, possibly in the millyard. Who knows? It’s worth pursuing because a community without a movie theater is missing a significant quality of life component.

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