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Daphne Howland

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Posted: March 13, 2017

Venue review: The Nickelodeon

Written by: Daphne Howland
PORTLAND, ME - MARCH 9: Venue review: An empty theater awaits patrons for a matinee showing at the Nickelodeon. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

An empty theater awaits patrons for a matinee showing at the Nickelodeon. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The Nickelodeon movie theater is tucked along a gateway to the Old Port, slanting along the small plaza at Temple and Middle streets in Portland, where a bronze statue of a lobsterman crouches while pegging a lobster.

The theater’s marquee is typical, but the titles it proclaims aren’t always the usual blockbuster movies that Hollywood has blown out in recent years as it attempts to lure in cinema crowds who increasingly stream their films at their leisure, at home. Inside, the foyer is carpeted and quiet. A huge portrait of Audrey Hepburn smiles at patrons making their way back down the circular stairwell from the restrooms upstairs, a symbol of the theater owners’ own love of cinema.

As a practical matter, “the Nick” has to play some uber-popular movies, said owner David Scott. But he knows that Portland cinephiles depend on the house to bring in the ones that studios test out in big cities without any promises that they’ll make it to second- and third-tier municipalities, and he works hard to get them to the Nick. As a movie like the award-winning Moonlight attracts buzz across the country, film buffs can only cross their fingers and hope that it’ll make it to the Nick. The venue is among family-owned Patriot Cinemas’ portfolio of theaters, along with three in Massachusetts, including a couple of multiplexes.

PORTLAND, ME - MARCH 9: Venue review: Max Scardino, an employee at the Nickelodeon, prepares a bag of popcorn for a matinee showing. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

Max Scardino, an employee at the Nickelodeon, prepares a bag of popcorn for a matinee showing. Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I consider the Nickelodeon a very unique theater,” Scott said. “We have state-of-the-art sound, so we have kept up with the technology. But the uniqueness comes with the films that we play and show. It’s my favorite theater that we have.”

The chance to see films produced outside of the Hollywood mainstream isn’t the theater’s only draw, however; its location beats the moat of a parking lot that surrounds most of the area’s other options. On a winter night, the lights festooning the trees in nearby Tommy’s Park complement that other-worldly feeling that comes from exiting a movie, and film-goers can build their evening around dinner and a movie, thanks to Portland’s massive offering of cafes, bars and restaurants just outside its doors.

Although the Nick’s theaters don’t offer the guaranteed view that stadium seating at many newer, cineplex-style ones do, the seats are comfortable and views are good from most angles. Similarly, the sound, while not earth-shattering, offers a cinema experience beyond what most people find from their living room sound bars. The bathrooms aren’t shiny new, but decently clean. And the young people selling tickets and scooping the always fresh popcorn love movies.

Nearly two decades ago, the Nick was in danger of shuttering. Scott’s father had launched his company in the early 1960s and was enthusiastic about buying it when the Hoyt’s chain decided to unload it in 1998. It was in bad shape, Scott said, and taking it on entailed not just significant up-front investments to the space and the screens, but also weathering a non-compete agreement with Hoyt’s that, for a while, limited what they could show.

“It was a tough battle actually, but it meant we were able to cross over into the art segment,” Scott said. “We don’t regret it. We just signed another lease.”


WHERE: 1 Temple St., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: Movie times, 772-9751; manager’s line, 772-4022
CAPACITY: Six theaters totaling about 1,070 seats; largest theater seats about 230
SEATING STYLE: Traditional
REFRESHMENTS: Popcorn, candy and various treats, and non-alcoholic beverages
PARKING: On-street parking within walking distance and validated parking next door in the Temple Street garage. ($3 flat rate with ticket purchase. Just bring in your parking ticket to be stamped)
WHAT ELSE: Closed caption (CC) and audio description (AD) available.


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