An employee checks movie tickets (copy)

Owen Quadrozzi, 16, watches as Caylah Toyloy checks tickets at The Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield. The cinema finished 2021 with its most profitable fourth quarter and most lucrative December since 2017. Other area movie theaters haven't been so lucky. Regal Cinemas, at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, has closed permanently.

This past year saw a tale of two very different Berkshire movie theaters, as The Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield saw its best fourth quarter last year since Phoenix Theatres purchased it, while Regal’s theater at the Berkshire Mall recently closed permanently.

It’s important to note that we don’t know definitively why Regal closed — unlike The Beacon, it was owned by the large conglomerate Cineworld, so it’s possible that the closure came as a result of larger financial struggles with the company, and not necessarily tied to the performance of the Lanesborough theater. Phoenix Theatres chose to release information on how The Beacon did in 2021, but private movie theater companies aren’t required to release these numbers, and until Cineworld releases further information on its Lanesborough theater, we only have speculation and anecdotal evidence to go on, though it did have several factors working against it; the most notable was its location.

Unlike The Beacon, which is located in downtown Pittsfield, Regal was adjacent to the shuttered Berkshire Mall. When the mall was open, this served the theater well as it was a high-traffic area, and the mall’s layout encouraged casual browsing. A theater was a natural commodity, especially for those who wanted to fit in some shopping or get dinner before or after their feature presentation. The best way to describe Regal’s appeal when the mall was open is that it was convenient, which is precisely what it was not when the mall closed, as after the mall was shuttered, it became a place you’d have to drive out of the way to specifically go to the movie theater, unless you were looking to see a film before or after a Target trip. If you had a theater closer to your hometown — like The Beacon in Pittsfield, the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington or the Movieplex in North Adams — it didn’t make sense to go to Regal unless it was showing a film the other theaters weren’t.

Such was my relationship with Regal after the mall closed, though I always enjoyed my time there, and the Berkshires are worse off because of their absence. The Berkshires movie theater industry is particularly fragile. The handful of theaters the county has are usually the only ones in their respective towns, which is all the more reason why we have to protect them, as without them, many will lose access to the theatergoing experience. Regal’s demise seems to be a cautionary tale that theaters cannot survive in an isolated environment; they need to be situated in lively population centers where casual and spur-of-the-moment viewership is more likely to happen, especially in years where big tentpole films like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “No Time to Die” are few and far in between.

If the mall’s current owners are successful in bringing it back to life as planned, it could attract another movie theater company to occupy the former Regal lot. But after multiple false starts and setbacks to the project, it’s hard for me to put hope into it, and I have no doubt that’s how many feel about it, given its troubled recent history. If the mall’s owners are to gain the trust and confidence of the public, they’ll need to produce concrete results indicating that the space is indeed coming back online. Until it does, Target will stand on its own as the last stronghold left of what used to be the Berkshires’ largest retail center — the last reminder of an era before the dominance of online shopping, when malls were a place to congregate.

I have hope that movie theaters will not fade away like malls have nationwide. But in order for them to succeed, they need constant support from their local communities, especially in times where the film industry is volatile. Regal will be missed, and its parcel and the Berkshire Mall lot as a whole deserve to be occupied by businesses that will once again make it a driving economic force in the Berkshires.

While Cineworld is not required to be as open about its Lanesborough theater as Phoenix Theatres has been with The Beacon, the county and prospective owners and/or tenants of its former lot can greatly benefit from it being transparent, as it would paint a picture of exactly what went wrong and potentially reveal what future theaters in the area can do differently to survive. It is notable that The Eagle reported that last year, The Beacon, Images Cinema and the Triplex Cinema were awarded significant pandemic relief funds by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which excluded large chains like Regal and AMC.

Mitchell Chapman is an Eagle page designer/copy editor and columnist.

Night News Editor

Mitchell Chapman is The Eagle’s night news editor. He has been with The Eagle since 2016. He is a former editor of The MCLA Beacon and was a Berkshires Week intern in 2017.