The Roxy Theatre, the last remaining Center City movie house, will be closing its doors according to owner John Ciccone of San-Mor Limited Partnership. Ciccone said that operator Bernard Nearey's lease had been terminated. Nearey had been operating the Roxy for 15 years, while Ciccone bought the space four years ago.
A call to Neary was not immediately returned. Nearey's lease is up November 7, and the theater, currently showing The Campaign and Trouble with the Curve, will continue to operate until then.
Ciccone said that he wanted to make major improvements on the theater and revamp it. Rather than solely showing first-run films, he wante to cater to the neighborhood with a mix of repertory cinema (think Hitchcock and "A Clockwork Orange"), arthouse films and new releases. "For financial reasons, there might be a ["Harry Potter"] series we’ll show because it will make some money," said Ciccone, who said the Roxy wasn't making munch money as of late.
Integral to the revamp of the theater is a complete renovation of the space, upgrading the soundsystem, screens and seats as well as adding digital projectors, which cost $110,000 a piece. "Some people dont' come to the Roxy because the seats are so bad," Ciccone said. He added would continue to show films on 35 millimeter film, making it one of the last bastions of celluloid in the city after the Ritz theaters recently went digital (the Ritz Five still has a 35 millimeter projector on site but doesn't regularly use it).
"It’s not a matter of evicting Bernie but finding a way to take the Roxy to the next level," Ciccone, who also owns the nearby Adrienne Theater on the 2000 block of Sansom, said. "Bernie doesn’t have the wherewithal to take it the next level and a typical businessman won’t do it because there’s no money there."
Ciccone said that Stephen Starr had approached him about turning the Roxy into something like Austin, Tx.'s Alamo Drafthouse, where patrons can get dinner and drinks with their movie, but Ciccone is set on keeping it a traditional moviehouse for now.
The Roxy Theater opened at 2021 Sansom in 1975 by Max Raab, a clothing magnate and film producer of such movies as "A Clockwork Orange." In 1983, the Roxy took over 2023 Sansom and added second screen. The theater was closed from 1994 to 1997 when Nearey, an attorney, resurrected the cinema house.
"He would love to see what was going on there becaue it was his pet project," Ciccone said of Raab. "There aren’t that many people like that around, I might be one of them."
UPDATE: Nearey told Daily News columnist Dan Gross Friday night that Ciccone begged him to stay and keep the theatre running when he purchased the theatre from Raab's estate in 2008.
"He came to me with hat in hand. He needed me to stay in operation," Nearey said of Ciccone. "He told me to take care of the movies and he would handle all exteriors and maintenance," Nearey said
Nearey says Ciccone made written promises to fix the roof but in four years "Didn't put one penny into the building."
"If they think they can make money showing repertory film they're wrong," Nearey said.
Nearey admits that Ciccone has the legal right to terminate his lease, which renews every six-months, but is upset to have recived a fax Friday telling him that Ciccone believes the building is unsafe and he should vacate now.
"It's not unsafe. I just had an inspection by L&I and the Fire Department. He offered to pay me to get out early. Whatever they want to do in here, they want to do it quickly," Nearey said of Ciccone's plans.
Ciccone spoke highly of Nearey's history with the Roxy.
"Bernie has done a wonderful job. He's struggled there. This is going to take a lot of capital. Nobody would be expected to put up the capital aside from the building owner," Ciccone said.
Asked how he'll make money with the theater he believes can't make much, Ciccone said he considers himself a patron of the arts and cited his work with the InterACT and Wilma Theater company. He also owns the Adrienne Theatre across from Roxy.