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Mitchell Chapman: North Adams deserves a movie theater

A couple sit in a movie theater (copy)

People watch a 3-D version of "Avatar: The Way of Water" Tuesday at the North Adams Movieplex. It was the last day of showings before the theater closed permanently.

One of the challenges of getting older is the realization that many places you hold dear no longer exist, at least in the manner you remember them.

Over the past few years, I’ve felt this as institutions that shaped who I am have shuttered or transformed in Berkshire County.

My elementary school — Berkshire Trail in Cummington — closed in 2015. My college paper’s newsroom at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, where I honed my craft and forged irreplaceable memories with some truly talented people, is also different; it has moved since I graduated. The entire Berkshire Mall — except for Target — has been a shadow of its former self, falling into disrepair as it looks likely that it’ll be home to cannabis mini-farms.

The North Adams Movieplex, which closed last month, is now among these fallen spaces.

The theater’s owners didn’t elaborate on why it closed. Local social media groups have been full of speculation, some of it blaming the likes of Netflix and other streaming giants. It’s the classic new-tech-replaces-old argument whenever a legacy business goes out of business — an argument that doesn’t satisfy me. While it is true that we live in a world with streaming, we still live in a pop culture era where big blockbuster “event movies” are still particularly relevant. Even during a global pandemic, we have must-see films like “Avatar: The Way of Water” that garner box office records, albeit it does feel like big releases last year were few and far between.

Besides, going to the movies is still a relatively affordable endeavor in the county, at least if you don’t go crazy on concessions. Ticket prices on the Movieplex’s website were $7 for adults and $6 for seniors, students and children — a bargain compared to what it costs to go to a theater in larger metro areas. At my girlfriend’s home theatre in Harlem, full-price tickets are about $20, with senior and child prices only a few dollars less. The Beacon in Pittsfield, which features reclining, heated seating, is also reasonably priced, as its general admission is $10 ($7 for seniors, children and matinee showings).

I’ve written before about the tough spot movie theaters are in, particularly when Regal Cinemas closed its Berkshire Mall location last year. Regal suffered from two major factors, both tied to location: It was out of the way and a part of a decrepit mall that multiple developers have failed to revive. Its fate greatly contrasted with that of Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, which was just coming off of a 2021 flourish thanks in part to big tentpole films like “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and their commitment to “consistently” stay open, owner Cory Jacobson told The Eagle at the time.

As a college student at MCLA between 2014 and 2018, the North Adams Movieplex was one of my favorite spots thanks to its low prices and abundant showings. It was easy to become a cinephile in that city, and I think that it is so important that North Adams residents have access to a hometown theater where they can see wide-release films, as going to the movies is still a worthwhile experience in 2023. It’s an easy date night, a means to see the current big movie everyone is talking about and just a simple means to escape for a little while, for which cinema has always been great.

North Adams deserves to have a movie theater. The easiest way to do that might be putting another one in the Movieplex’s footprint. Several people on social media have brought up the idea of Phoenix Theatres, which owns the Beacon in Pittsfield, possibly reviving the Movieplex. It could work if North Adams offers similar assistance as Pittsfield did for the Beacon. Phoenix has certainly gained a steady foothold in the county, but it’s up to them if they want to expand their reach northward. If not, hopefully another theater operator might take interest in reviving the space.

Regardless, the Berkshire Mall provides a pertinent lesson that time is of the essence for such revivals, as the degradation of its building has been a major hurdle to new development. The absolute worst scenario for North Adams is if the Movieplex sits abandoned for years.

The loss of the Movieplex is a huge blow to North Adams from which I hope the city will recover. It is just one more instance of businesses struggling to make it in the Berkshires and should serve as a sobering reminder that even longstanding institutions need constant community support if they are to endure.

Mitchell Chapman is The Eagle’s night news editor.

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.

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