BANTAM — The owners of Bantam Cinema announced this week that the old theater is closing permanently, and that they are contining to look for a buyer.
The cinema, at 115 Bantam Lake Road/Route 209 in the Bantam Borough of Litchfield, first opened in 1927 and includes a two-story, 3,200-square-foot building with two indoor theaters, each with seating for 100 people. The owners put the building up for sale in August 2019, but continued to run the theater.
David Koch, Sidney Koch, Sheila Nevins and Ken Merz have owned the building and its operations since 2007. Thursday, Sidney Koch said the decision to close was difficult, but that the coronavirus pandemic sealed the theater’s fate.
Theaters were among the many businesses that closed in mid-March by Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders. The state is now in phase two of reopening those businesses, and theaters will be allowed to reopen June 20, with restrictions.
“A wise man once said that if it’s not about the money, it’s about the money,” Koch said. “It turned out with the pandemic and the conditions on the industry, plus the expenses of keeping this small theater going, were just too much.”
Koch also said the state’s minimum wage increase was a factor. “I don’t begrudge anyone for anything,” he said. “I don’t begrudge the state for higher taxes ... for a raised minimum wage. We understand all that. But we’re in the age of COVID-19, of Amazon, of Netflix, of these companies with enormous amounts of capital.
“The big thing about COVID-19 is, there’s no cure, there’s no vaccine, and there’s nothing to prevent it. It makes it very difficult to operate a business that relies on numbers of people. You just can’t get a lot of people together in a relatively confined environment. Look at the strain on major sports teams; it reverberates through the entire industry.”
Since purchasing the theater in 2007, the partners and their staff have offered a variety of events and movie screenings of independent and foreign films such as “The Times of Bill Cunningham,” about the famous fashion photographer; “Fleabag,” a play from London made into a film; and London’s stage version on film of “All About Eve.” The theater sometimes welcomed directors or screenwriters to talk about their work before the screenings.
Koch said he and his partners have received several interesting offers, but nothing has developed beyond that. They all want to keep the theater running as a theater or some sort of community center-based building.
“We’re not going to rent it,” he said. “If someone came along and wanted to buy, it, our preferene is to try to keep it with some sort of entertainment in mind.”
The owners recognize their theater as the only independent art film venue in Litchfield County. In April, Bethel Cinema in Bethel, another small venue that screened independent films, also closed, citing financial difficulties and the pandemic.
In a statement, the partners thanked their supporters and the theater’s staff.
“We express our sincerest thanks to Doug Richardson, the Bantam Cinema’s manager since 1984. Doug is one of a kind in his knowledge, devotion, and dedication to film and especially to the Bantam Cinema and the local community. Our wonderful employees have helped Doug make the theater what it is today,” according to the statement. “We are eternally grateful to our loyal patrons, whose support, suggestions, and kind words have meant so much to us over the years. We extend the sincerest gratitude to our local advertisers who were instrumental in keeping the Cinema alive.”