Once upon a time, my city of New Bedford, MA was rife with movie theaters. There was the Arcade, the Capitol, the Olympia, the State, and the Center, among others. Then came the North Dartmouth Mall in 1971, with its shopping center and three screens, soon to be expanded. The Mall became a destination for both shoppers and youths, and the neighborhood theaters quietly vanished. The Center was the last to go, surviving until 1990 by converting into a Triple XXX palace of dubious reputation.
The Cinema 140 arrived with two screens in 1968, and as the years passed it expanded and was noted for showing films not in the mainstream, art house types one would normally have to travel to Boston or Providence to catch. When it closed in 2000, New Bedford was left with only Flagship Cinemas. Opened in 1995, this multiplex showed all the first-run films without the traffic filled trip up Route 6 to suburban, business zoned Dartmouth. Flagship also featured regular free screenings of older classics for elderly movie buffs every Tuesday.
Now it seems Flagship is the next to go. It’s CEO has stated the city has forced their hand due to rezoning laws designed for industrial use, while the city counters the closure is because of the loss of business to the Mall’s AMC Theater, recently renovated with comfortable chairs and a liquor license, not to mention competition from services like Netflix. I don’t know where the truth lies (though I do know a recent report states a worker at Flagship was stuck with a used needle while cleaning between the chairs). All I know is that Flagship always has a good crowd whenever I go there, and it’s a much more convenient ride than shuffling up the highway to Dartmouth. It’s a downright shame to see the Flagship go the way of other movie theaters over the years. New Bedford considers itself an “arts” community, which begs the question: Can you call yourself an “arts” community without a film theater within city limits? For me, the answer is no. Closing is scheduled for this August, leaving the city without a movie theater for the first time since 1914. I hope the politicians and Flagship officials can work this out, but it doesn’t seem very likely. Just another nail in the coffin for the experience of going out to the movies… at least in New Bedford.