Nestled in the southernmost patch of Forest Hills, independent theater Cinemart Cinemas on Metropolitan Avenue has been through some rough times. After eight years without getting the distribution rights to new movies, things were looking grim at the close of 2014 and owner Nicolas Nicolaou was facing shutting the doors on a local fixture determined to stay affordable. But in January 2015, local preservationist Michael Perlman rallied the community together and Cinemart saw record numbers. Now, almost a year later, it’s loyal regulars who keep things going.
Cinemart’s interior is reminiscent of New York’s many classic diners. A foyer of bold black and white checkered tiles meets perpetually dim lighting, except for glaring pink-tinted fluorescents hanging over the concession stand and marking two theater entrances. Down a long easily-missed hallway with off-white aging paint, glowing pink arrows with little turquoise inset numbers mark the remaining three theaters.
A little grungy and perhaps in need of renovations, it’s just barely charming.
The first run screening of “American Sniper” in January was a turning point. When Perlman initiated a flurry of online posts encouraging people to come to Cinemart in its time of need, the response was overwhelming. Usher Fabian Vasquez, 30, remembers it well. “You could barely move here. It was like a concert,” he said. “There were so many people. It was crazy.”
The appeal spoke to longtime locals. “Cinemart is part of the memories of Forest Hills,” said Rubi Gaddi Macaulay, 53, a banking executive. “We lived there for 21 years and that would be the place we would take them for their birthdays and field trips. When they were teenagers that was the place they worked.” The theater opened in 1927 and has been in operation ever since.
“American Sniper” gave Nicolaou the leverage he needed. “We’ve been getting a lot more first run films this year. I stopped counting after five,” said Vasquez. “Last year we got zero.” Currently the theater is showing titles like “Black Mass,” “Our Brand is Crisis” and “Truth.”
Older people like that everything is on one floor so they can avoid climbing stairs. “They come with walkers and canes,” said Frank Tommasini, 58, the weekend manager.
It’s an edge on nearby competitor Kew Gardens cinemas which has elevators.
Attendance has increased overall, but it’s nothing tremendous. “It’s all dependent on what kind of movies you get,” Tommasini said. “If you don’t get the first run movies then you’re not gonna get the people.” But as long as the lineup is somewhat appealing, there are a few dozen moviegoers who come every week and keep the business in the clear.
What makes Cinemart stand out is Nicolaou’s vision. “We are a theater for the people. People should never consider going to the movies to be a luxury item,” said Nicolaou in an email. “Going to the movies as often as you like is people’s right.” It’s this spirit that has kept Cinemart affordable, and best of all, every ticket comes with free popcorn.