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Ramsey Cinema Closed, Future Unknown

Several factors contributed to the owner's decision to sell the Main Street theater, former employees say.

The Ramsey Cinema clock. Credit: Lindsey Bartley.
The Ramsey Cinema clock. Credit: Lindsey Bartley.

The future of a Ramsey Main Street staple is unknown.

This Monday, the Ramsey Cinema on East Main Street closed its doors for what may be the last time.

According to the theater’s former manager Lindsey Bartley, several reasons contributed to owner Peter Vivian’s decision to sell the property.

Vivian, “had owned the cinema since the early 1980's and is on his way to retiring,” Bartley said. “The rising cost of supplies [was a] contributing factor to his decision. When someone expressed interest in buying the building, he felt that it was the right time for him.”

Bartley also said the cost of the impending digital conversion, which will require all movie theaters to convert their systems to a digital platform by the end of the year, contributed to the decision to close.

“I do not know the future plans for the cinema,” Bartley said. “As far as I know, the new owner has not decided yet what she wants to do with the space. There is still a possibility it could be reopened as a theater, but it could also be turned into something else.”

Vivian did not respond to a call for comment on his decision to sell, or any information about what the future of the theater may hold.

Local residents, movie theater patrons, and the former staff of the theater say they hope to see the theater stay in Ramsey, where reports say it has been since at least the 1920’s.

“I am honestly heartbroken that we have closed,” Bartley, who has been working there for 11 years, said. “The cinema has been a special place to so many people over the years. While we have never been the fanciest or most technologically-advanced theater, we have always tried to maintain a friendly atmosphere and affordable prices. We were a part of the community and I think we represented the idea of downtown Ramsey." 

Bartley also thanked the community for its support of the theater over the years, and asked that people remember to frequent local theaters.

“Every kid who grew up in Bergen County has visited it at least once during their childhood. I hope that future generations will be able to experience the small town theater,” she said. “It would be a shame if the only option to see a movie was going to a mall.” 

Dee Felton August 23, 2013 at 11:24 AM
This was a part of my childhood. I went there with my grandparents. I am so sad. First the merry-go-round at Paramus Park and now this. We need to keep the family friendly history in our area. We don't need another Starbucks or a computer game store. Just so sad.
Lindsey Bartley August 23, 2013 at 11:27 AM
But Maria, what you don't understand is that the environment is changing. People can download movies on demand in the comfort of their own home with high quality picture and sound. There is becoming less of a demand for movie theaters. Small independently owned theaters everywhere are struggling to keep up. It's not that their model doesn't work, it's that the world is changing. The cost of running a business is increasing, so they're seeing less of a profit to begin with. Digital projectors are expensive. As new technology comes out (better sound systems, 3D, etc) theaters have to keep upgrading. Small businesses will struggle, while the larger chains like AMCs have no problem fronting that money. People won't come if you raise the prices too much. The economy has been struggling. The cinema was successful for over 30 years with the last owner. We were still selling out shows this summer. It's not about a failure, it's about a changing environment and the owner's desire to retire. The cinema could very well open again under the new owner. Theaters like the one in Montclair and Washington Township are owned by a larger corporation. Clearview was owned by Cablevision who upgraded half of their theaters to digital. Now Bow Tie Cinemas has taken over most of the Clearviews and they have been converted to digital.
Lindsey Bartley August 23, 2013 at 11:30 AM
There are still so many great smaller, local theaters around, but it is up to the communities to keep them in business. Remember that all their money is made on their concession stand. Just buying a ticket won't really help, so please buy yourself a popcorn. Theaters like Westwood offer first run movies at a reasonable rate. The Lafayette Theater in Suffern has been preserved beautifully and always has special events that are worth checking out. There are even two drive-ins in Middletown and Warwick, New York, less than an hour from Ramsey, that offer a cheap and really fun experience.
Ivy August 23, 2013 at 11:39 AM
Lindsey - you make really good points. It's very important to support these small/local theaters. I know about the drive in Warwick - I didn't know there was one in Middletown... do you know where in Middletown that is located?
otcoll August 23, 2013 at 11:40 AM
Sad. My husband proposed to me on the marquee of the Ramsey Cinema 20 years ago. My kids love going there. Hopefully it return
Lindsey Bartley August 23, 2013 at 11:47 AM
Ivy- it's called the Fair Oaks Drive In. Here's a link to their website http://thefairoaksdrivein.com/ They have a great concession stand and it's only $9 for adults.
Ivy August 23, 2013 at 11:49 AM
Lindsey - thank you! And thank you for explaining how important the concession stands are to the success of the theaters. I don't think people realize that (I know I didn't!). I will be sure to support these theaters and to be sure to buy from the concession stands!
Lindsey Bartley August 23, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Thanks, Ivy! :)
Mary V. August 23, 2013 at 12:23 PM
Lindsey, you have educated us all with your comments regarding the economics of running a small movie theatre business. Thank you. What do you think of an idea to run it on a subscription basis? The theatre would offer subscription memberships that would entitle them to X number of movies per year, plus discounts on special events (would have to think about what those might be - maybe a night where you meet some actors or directors). You could have family memberships as well with more children specific programming. Anyone could of course still attend by paying at the door, but it might offer a base guaranteed annuity revenue stream. I haven't been to the movie theatre in a while so I'm not familiar with the physical layout, but perhaps you could add a "live theatre weekend" offering a couple of times a year with an easy to set up / dismantle stage. There may be other creative ideas to beef up the revenue. I'm wondering, was the theatre always running at full capacity? I understand of course the financial hurdle to convert to digital technology - $100K is a lot of money. I think we're all in agreement that this theatre is a valuable contributor to community life in Ramsey. It would be a shame to lose it.
Raffaele Quintieri August 23, 2013 at 01:11 PM
Hi this is Ralph, the other long-time manager at the theater. What really brought a smile to my face & Lindsey's was seeing the same families coming in, over & over for every movie. Some we knew by name, most we didn't. When we'd see one of our regular groups come in on a rainy Saturday afternoon, opening weekend of some Disney blockbuster, perfectly aware they were going to packed like sardines in a tiny 150 seat box,(I'd have to get in there & move people over to be sure the last few families sat together, rather than apart) as they squeezed thru a giant concession line to get to their seats, then get back into that long line (instead of just sneaking treats in) well, we knew those ones who kept coming back and putting up with all that loved our little theater as much as we did. Our big regret was that the suddenness of the closing didn't give us time to tell the community or our loyal customers or even thank them for keeping the place in business for 31 years. We knew the owner had until the end of the year to convert the 2 theaters to digital at the cost of about $90,000, and that didn't seem likely. We also knew he was looking for buyer so he could retire. We thought (maybe foolishly) we'd be here until November & maybe even find a thrifty solution to the digital projectors, seeing how almost everything in our theater was missmatched and came from other closed theaters. Sorry we didn't get to say goodbye properly.
Lindsey Bartley August 23, 2013 at 01:14 PM
Hi Mary. Thanks for your comments. I think that would be an interesting idea, definitely something the new owner could consider. The space wouldn't really work with a stage, maybe if they removed some seats in one of the theaters, but there are also fire codes that we have to strictly adhere to. The building is very old and is pretty limited. I think there are definitely creative ways to keep people coming in, I've had so many ideas over the years. The amount of people attending shows really varied, depending on what movies we had, the weather outside, etc. On a beautiful summer day, you're not going to have a large crowd, but if it rains, we were packed. I think it's becoming very apparent how much this theater meant to so many people. I had my birthday party there years before I started working there. I started working there when I was sixteen and I was so happy to have the opportunity to be there for the last eleven years. I loved working there. We really appreciate everyone's support.
Raffaele Quintieri August 23, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Also, interesting tidbit left out of this article.. So many kids had their parties here. Lindsey, the manager had her own birthday party at the theater when she was a little kid.
Lindsey Bartley August 23, 2013 at 01:23 PM
Ralph- I still have the VHS tape!
Raffaele Quintieri August 23, 2013 at 02:16 PM
dear OTCOLL - If you are the subject of the marquee message that I put up there 20 years ago "Catherine, Will you marry me? John" ... then I have to tell you... your fiancé was so excited about you saying yes, he forgot to come back and pay me! Also the reason I remember it so well is that we had a polaroid of the marquee sign pinned up among the birthday party photos for a year or two afterwards with the word "NO!" printed on it hoping he'd see it and jog his memory. LOL
Alan Pagano August 23, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Maria, I have to chime in. Why do people go to AMC at the mall? Convenience. There is parking, as awful as it may be, if the movie sells out, they can walk around the mall, and see the next one. You cannot compete with that. When that theater opened up in the mid-2000's, Ramsey Cinema's business started to decline. How do I know? I worked there for 12 years and currently work at another "small theater." I was also a Ramsey resident for 28 years of my life. Ramsey Cinema had a reputation for birthday parties throughout Bergen County, and beyond. We catered to children for that very reason, because a main source of the theater's revenue came from those CHILDREN'S birthday parties. Why do you think the theater became a twin in the fall of 2001? So, we could play more than one kids movie i.e. Monsters Inc. and Harry Potter and cater to families. And business was booming! Also, children's movies make more money in concession sales and box office sales. Despicable Me and Monsters Inc. were the big money makers of the summer, not Blue jasmine or Jobs ( and I am a huge Woody Allen fan by the way). The Ramsey Cinema did very good business with those two children's movies. Blue Jasmine would only do business for a night show, which is what happens in the past as Lindsey stated earlier during Oscar season. And the concession sales would dip because families buy concession, not senior citizens. And I have to add Ramsey had the cheapest prices for concession and tickets in Bergen County(excluding Teaneck which also closed a few months back), even a bargain night Monday night, so how much can one discount before you take the hit? It would be amazing if you could play a kid's movie by day and an art-house film by night, but good luck trying to get a film company let you do that. They haven't and they won't until four weeks after the release. So unless you would like to see the Oscar winner in June, film companies will not allow that to happen. Also, Claridge is thriving? Last I heard, all Clearview Cinemas(which is what Claridge is) were sold, VERY CHEAP may I add, because they are not doing well. That is why Bow Tie Cinemas are sprouting up everywhere. Time Warner was losing money. And Washington Township is NOT a small theater; that theater is also a Bow Tie Cinema. I agree that the building needs renovation, and major improvements, and most importantly maybe some sort of marketing/advertising. That being said, movies are a dying business, unfortunately. That is a fact. Ramsey had a niche market of supporters, young and old, but the cost of digital and renovations was too great in a dying business. Lindsey and Raffaele know what they are talking about. And the exact quote is "It's not personal...It's strictly business."
MG August 23, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Alan, Thank you for chiming in. We need more input from people that have the knowledge of the theater industry. Yes I understand that Ramsey Cinema made money in the past but because of movie selections, parking issues ,the need for renovations and the decline in attendance due to new technology of streaming, I believe these are some of the reasons which have contributed to its decline. Yes, people go to the AMC because the theaters are comfortable , you can park and have many movies to chose from. I have not been to the Ramsey Cinema since it went twin because they were only showing childrens films and the theater's seating was very uncomfortable along with not enough lighting in the theater. At the AMC theaters you have stadium seating comfortable chairs and the atmosphere is very bright. The concession stands at AMC also have alternative food choices with snacks that are lower in calories which I think is important for everyone and that all theaters should be encouraging. I agree that the theater business is in decline due to movies that can be streamed at home through cable companies at less of a cost than seeing a movie in a theater.You can see a movie in the privacy of your own home without someone rudely talking or kicking your chair.Whoever buys the Ramsey Cinema needs to decide whether it wants to pursue this business and put money into it,sell it to a national theater chain such as AMC or Bowtie who wil renovate it or do something else with the space. This is the reality of the situation whether we like it or not. Thanks for correcting my Godfather quote!
Bruce Albert August 23, 2013 at 09:48 PM
Alan, the new owners owe you big time for your concise analysis of the cinema industry and in particular Ramsey's Main St. It was where I went to see a Macale's Navy flick Interstate heated things up more with "Gold Finger" but most forgotten viewing was done at the Rt. 17 drive in in USR. Time has passed, we've grown, I have a theater at home, we enjoy paying for theater tickets because with all this digital stuff, people are real, they study their parts and interject their interpretation of the character as has been done cross culturally for centuries, I have shot theater playbills for 30+ years, big productions or one man shows. Do I want to get all my entertainment from an I-pad?
otcoll August 24, 2013 at 08:00 AM
@ Raffaele. No my proposal was Colleen will you marry me love, your kissing friend and I hope my husband paid you. He's not the type to not pay. But have to say we still live in Ramsey and love this town. My kids were very upset about the theater closing. Me too!!
Elizabeth Scala Benducci August 24, 2013 at 08:04 AM
Anyone know how to get in touch with someone at the theater? We were there on the Friday before they closed (and there was nothing to indicate that it was closing) and my daughter left her sweatshirt there - we went back but it had closed and I am trying to get it back! It is sad that they closed - we enjoyed the family atmosphere - had several birthday parties there and outings - fun place to go at the last minute
Raffaele Quintieri August 24, 2013 at 10:29 AM
Otcoll- LOL, After the Catherine/John one they always asked for the money for any marquee messages in advance.
Lindsey Bartley August 24, 2013 at 11:38 AM
Elizabeth- I just sent you an email.
Gina Ziegelhofer August 25, 2013 at 11:27 PM
I remember riding my bicycle from Waldwick to the movies and only paying $0.99 to see Grizzly. It was so scary going home in the dark. I will really miss it if it closes for good. It brings back a lot of good childhood memories.
Peter Talarico August 27, 2013 at 01:30 AM
Sad story. I was sad when the other complex at interstate went out as well. The movie theatre and bowling alley was my childhood! Losing a downtown Ramsey landmark is sad. On a happier note, Love you Linds and you as well Alan.
Phil Tisi September 02, 2013 at 09:32 AM
On behalf of those of us who are aficionados of downtown movie theaters , I was dismayed but not surprised over the closure of thenRamsey cinema....I have been working on behalf of the Ramapo Town Board for over thirteen years with the ownership of the Lafayette theater to keep it operational...The theater is one of the oldest single screen theaters in the country that is still screening first run and classic movies. On march 3 we will celebrate the theaters 90 th birthday....However if it were not for the commitment of the the benmosche family who own the facility and the towns purchase of a digital projector for the Lafayette...our movie palace would be closed also....Curently the Town is acting as the exhibitor (procuring the movies) and the aforementioned family is operating the venue...We have a 1000 seat auditorium with nearby parking, and the most inexpensive admission and concession prices in the area...The theater is also available for rental, birthday parties and special events. On Friday and Saturday nights before our first show theater organist Jeff Barker is featured, playing the 1931 mighty Wurlitzer organ. The admission price for All matinee shows is $8.00...Our annual Ramapo film festival begins on Saturday, October 19' with the screening of the Godfather...Please peruse our full schedule listed at www.lafayettetheatersuffern.com...Our current movie Lee Daniels The Butler ia attracting very enthusiastic audiences..Speaking As a film buff, I sincerely hope that the Ramsey cinema reopens soon...this year over 1500 single screen movie theaters will close nationally - due to their inability to purchase digital equipment or inability to be financially viable. Little did I realize before becoming involved with procuring movies that the major studios receive 60 - 65 percent of all admission monies collected...Theater owners in this day and age essentially operate candy stores...Please visit the Historic Lafayette, and call me 845 357 5100 ext 201 or ptisi52@aol.com with any questions or theater rental requests....I plan to start advertising in the Patch within th next few weeks....Please help us keep the downtown movie palaces alive by patronizing them!
MG September 02, 2013 at 09:59 AM
Thank you Phil for your comments. I have supported the Lafayettte Theater for the reasons you stated..large theater, good and varied movie showings, parking ability. The Butler is an excellent movie and a perfect selection for the theater. I also enjoy the Mighty Wurlitzer. However unless the Ramsey Cinema embraces some of the actions you have taken such as participation of owners, varied movie selection, parking issues with other stores,town board participation, and money to support the theater it will not succeed. .Looking forward to your postings on the Patch.
Bruce Albert September 02, 2013 at 11:12 AM
Lafayette Theater is a part of history, embracing live performances, some Vaudeville, not to mention the growing popularity of a new medium, the "silent films" most hot out of the developers in Fort Lee and Paterson. It was a place where the local factory workers, farmers, and Tuxedo Park titans could come and be entertained and leave inspired or satisfied with their lot in life through depression and two world wars. In light of the burgeoning studio business returning to NYC, and the new medium of Holographic recording and projection, I hope the digital projectors aren't already obsolete, because you can see Steve Jobs walk out of a vapor screen big as life, where the I-pads and flat screens however large don't cut it.
Lindsey Bartley September 02, 2013 at 03:55 PM
The Lafayette is a beautiful theater and it is so wonderful that the town has worked so hard to keep it alive. I love the classic movies and the Horror-thons the best, personally. I would just like to remind everyone that if they want to continue having small local theaters, please support them by visiting their concession stands!
Phil Tisi September 03, 2013 at 08:16 AM
Lindsay appreciate your kind works and dedication to keeping downtown theaters open....thanks. Phil
Phil Tisi September 05, 2013 at 08:36 AM
Historic lafayette theater thanks our military on September 12 All members of the armed forces past and present, and their immediate families admitted FREE to our showing of the Butler , starting at 730... Please spread the word...
Lindsey Bartley October 01, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Here is a link to the kickstarter page to pledge money to save the cinema! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ramseytheatre/bring-back-a-beautiful-new-and-digital-ramsey-thea

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