The Cinema Theater to show movies again
Not long after the operators of the Cinema Theater announced in February that Rochester's oldest movie house would close for good, the marquee began flashing a mysterious message that suggested a second showing: “The Cinema Theater Will Return.”
Now, new operators, spouses Kristina Dinino-Jeffords and Damon Jeffords, say they are delivering on the marquee’s cryptic promise.
“We plan on revitalizing this landmark theater and introducing a unique food menu including alcoholic beverages,” Dinino-Jeffords announced in a Facebook post. “We will be featuring newly released, 1st-run, movies including kid friendly matinees.”
The couple owns the Mad Hatter Restaurant & Bakery on South Goodman Street, not far from the iconic single-screen Cinema Theater on South Clinton Avenue and the corner of Goodman.
Her post went on to read that the couple plans to open in September and are looking to stage live performances, including plays and musical acts, beginning at some point in 2022.
Reached by phone, Dinino-Jeffords declined to discuss the matter beyond what was in her post, which was published April 8 and encouraged readers to share. It has since been widely circulated.
Cinema owner John Trickey confirmed that he was leasing the theater to the couple and said he believed the formula they proposed could be successful. He added they had already removed the seats to paint the floor.
“They are going to do something that I think Rochester needs,” Trickey said. “A lot of cities around the country have it, and that’s introducing food and beer and wine to the Cinema and go first-run.”
The Little Theatre, which is under the umbrella of WXXI Public Media, also offers beer and wine and a menu of desserts and simple entrees. The Little runs new releases, too, although mostly independent films from smaller distributors.
Obtaining a liquor license for a movie theater can be challenging. Currently, theaters can serve alcohol only through a licensed restaurant on the premises, and movie-goers are barred from consuming their drinks inside the theater unless there are dining tables at the seats. State legislators and the governor had been on the cusp of relaxing the law before the pandemic derailed that legislation.
With its trademark pink façade and turquoise trim, the Cinema has been a garish and beloved fixture of the Swillburg neighborhood for decades.
The theater opened as “The Clinton” in 1914 with dirt floors and bench seating, and was renamed the Cinema Theater in 1949 following an extensive renovation that introduced its distinctive art deco exterior.
The Cinema struggled financially with the advent of suburban cineplexes with their multiple screens and Hollywood blockbusters, but limped along with the support of loyal patrons who embraced the theater and all its quirks, including a house cat or two that roamed free and repeat sellouts of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Alex Chernavsky and his wife, Audrey Kramer, had operated the Cinema under a lease they signed in 2018. The place was so special to them that they had married there in 2009.
The couple was forced to shutter most of last year due to the pandemic and announced in February that they had opted to not renew their lease when it expired in January.
“We really enjoyed running the Cinema Theater for the past three years,” Chernavsky said. “It was a special place for us even before we (operated) it. We got married there, and it’s been a longtime comfort. The reality is, the pandemic made it difficult to commit to another term on the lease.”
Chernavsky said he met with Dinino-Jeffords and Jeffords a couple of times in recent months and confirmed that they had signed a new lease agreement.
“We wish the best of success to the news (operators), and we hope their new venture works out for them,” Chernavsky said.
Dinino-Jeffords wrote in her Facebook post that she and her husband were creating sponsorship packages for businesses and individuals.
Trickey said the marquee message foreshadowing a return to movies at the Cinema was by design.
“Everyone thought it was closing,” Trickey said. “I knew, as the owner, that the Cinema wasn’t going to close.”
Trickey rescued the theater from all but certain closure when he bought a controlling interest in the place in 2006. He became the sole proprietor in 2012, taking over from its longtime owner and operator, Jo Ann Morreale.
He described fielding calls from several prospective lessees and buyers when news broke earlier this year that the Cinema was closing.
“It was my intention always to keep an old landmark from disappearing,” Trickey said. “Once you lose something like that, that’s it. You never get it back.”
Includes reporting by Rebecca Rafferty.