The Nickelodeon needs upgrades before it can re-open, regardless of COVID-19.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID Economy

Will the Nick ever show movies again? Owner won’t offer up any reassurances

THE HERE & NOW: When will Santa Cruz’s beloved old arthouse cinema the Nickelodeon reopen again? The answer lies somewhere on a continuum between probably, maybe, and nobody knows.

The Nickelodeon is a haunting place these days.

Not too long ago, the beloved little arthouse cinema in downtown Santa Cruz was a hive of activity — lines at the box office, pre-show and post-show movie fans sitting on the outside benches in line of sight of the now-playing and coming-soon movie posters.

Today, the cases that hold those movie posters are empty and have been for months. The marquee is advertising movies more than a year old.

The empty coming-soon poster cases outside the Nick.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

The Nick is neither open nor closed. It is, like many other small businesses in the pandemic, in a curious state of limbo, in hibernation, stuck somewhere between life and death.

In light of the Regal Cinema 9 shutting down permanently in February, many local moviegoers are in a state of anxiety when it comes to the much more cherished Nickelodeon.

And many are asking the same question: Is the Nick ever going to open again?

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The answer lies somewhere on a continuum between probably, maybe, and nobody knows.

This week, I tried to get some intel on the Nick and, like a White House tourist who somehow got into the Oval Office, I found myself on the line with Paul Serwitz, the President and Chief Operating Office of Landmark Theatres, the Los Angeles-based movie-theater company that owns and operates both the Nick and the gorgeous old show palace the Del Mar, as well as about 50 other movie houses across the country.

If anyone knows what’s happening at the Nick, it has to be this guy. But he said, “We don’t know what we’re going to do, or when, in regards to the Nickelodeon.”

I spoke to Serwitz the day after the one-year anniversary of his chain grinding to a halt with the sudden onset of the pandemic shutdown. Unlike other theater chains that might have other properties in other industries, Serwitz said that Landmark only runs movie theaters, which meant in March 2020, the company essentially went to zero revenue, overnight.

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The Nick and the Del Mar were among those Landmark theaters that immediately shut down, but last fall, when state restrictions eased a bit, the Del Mar opened for about five weeks, “at a loss,” said Serwitz. Since November, both theaters have been closed.

Landmark’s strategy during the pandemic, said Serwitz, was to open only one movie house in markets in which it operated more than one (including Santa Cruz). Today, even with pandemic restrictions gradually easing and vaccination rates on the rise, Landmark is holding to the same policy.

That means, probably some time in the next four to six weeks, the beautiful 1930s Del Mar will open its doors to audiences.

The funky old 1960s-era Nickelodeon? Well, it’ll have to wait a bit longer.

“We’re just going to have to take baby steps,” said Serwitz in opening up his theaters. “We don’t know how much that rubber band is going to snap back.”

After an unprecedented year, Landmark is going to take its recovery slowly. Serwitz said he’s optimistic that Landmark generally and the Nick/Del Mar specifically can get back to its pre-pandemic standing (Landmark owns the Nickelodeon building outright, but works on a lease arrangement with the city which owns the Del Mar).

Still, he was not going to predict when the Nick would open again, or even if.

I pressed him to tell me that the Nick, with its four screens and intimate theaters, would definitely open one day. But having survived a nightmare year at Landmark, just a few months after he took the job in 2019, Serwitz wasn’t interested in handing out reassurances like Santa handing out candy.

“Anything is possible,” was all he said.