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COMMENTARY

Cheap seats, rich history: Saying goodbye to Four Seasons Cinema

Say it ain't so.

Four Seasons Cinema, the beloved second-run movie theater tucked behind Military Road in the Town of Niagara, will close next month.

My memories there stretch back to the 1980s, when it was one of the few places my mom could afford to take me – plus my siblings and even our friends. Later, as a teenager dating other broke teenagers, it made for a great date night. Now I go with my own kids, and it's always a great adventure. I had hoped to continue watching films there in my old age, when I'm a senior on a fixed income, but that is not to be.

Today's movie prices make it impossible for many families to go to a traditional movie theater. For someone who makes minimum wage, a ticket to the movies costs more than they earn in an hour. If it's one of my friends with five kids, forget it: taking the whole family will cost a day's pay. And that doesn't even account for popcorn.

But you didn't have to be on a tight budget to appreciate the Four Seasons. The low admission fees were just part of its charm. Dan Chamberlin, who had run Four Seasons since the 1990s, was the heart of it.

"It was essentially his theater. He ran it," said Greg Gismondi, whose family has owned Four Seasons for more than 30 years. "We owned it, but it was his place."

Chamberlin had worked in movie theaters since he was a kid brushing popcorn out from under the seats, and owned the Showplace Theater for a time. When Earl Ling, who had been leasing the Four Seasons from Gismondi's family, died, Chamberlin took over as manager.

"He was a character, I can tell you that. He was just very passionate about the movie business and strove to be a great family source of entertainment," Gismondi said.

Chamberlin died in 2017, and amid declining sales and increasing costs, Gismondi knew "it was time." He just recently finished paying off the $400,000 worth of new equipment needed to convert the eight-screen theater to digital projection (new films from Hollywood won't work on the old 35 mm projectors) and hasn't made a penny profit since the switch.

There's no money to install the fancy reclining seats other theaters have, and the projection technology keeps advancing, just like that of any other computer.

"It's outpacing our ability to keep up," he said from the family's real estate office, Amendola Property Management. "The theater is really my family's passion, it was never our livelihood."

Gismondi's family also owned the Jerry Lewis Cinema at 2500 Military Road, now an OTB.

Four Seasons is the last of my childhood movie theaters to go dark. The General Cinema at the Summit Park Mall, where I saw "Who's That Girl" is long gone, as is the nearby Summit Park 6 on Sawyer Drive, where I saw "Pump Up the Volume." Super Saver Cinema on Elmwood, where I first saw "Pulp Fiction," is a neon-lit memory.

You've got until about Aug. 4 to catch a show at Four Seasons (it could close sooner if the lawyers close on the sale of the property before then). Go, take the family, reminisce, soak in one last flick.

To everything, there is a season.

 

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