The owner of a beloved independent movie theater in Brooklyn Heights wants to convert his business into not-for-profit enterprise in an attempt to gain staying power in an evolving, digital-centric industry that favors multiplexes over tiny cinemas.
Brooklyn Heights Cinema owner Kenn Lowy has filed papers to achieve not-for-profit status for his Henry Street theater, allowing him to receive private donations, grant money, and tax write-offs to keep the one-of-a-kind movie house open.
The shift in business models coincides with a shift in the movie business, in which many distributors only release films in digital format, requiring the cash-strapped theater to purchase a costly digital projector and sound system package that runs for as much as $100,000, according to Lowy.
That’s enough to shutter one of the city’s last owner-operated cinemas, but Lowy says reinventing the theater as a not-for-profit will help him get cash together the update the theater.
“It’s the only way a theater my size can survive,” he said. “It’s not a cheap switch.”
The theater will keep screening new releases and sell tickets for the same prices, but Lowy says he will add regular screenings from local filmmakers and offer live monthly musical performances from emerging artists.
It won’t be Brooklyn’s only not-for-profit movie theater — the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas uses a similar model.
The plan comes after landlord Tom Caruana said he would demolish the movie house last winter to make room for a five-story apartment complex.
But neighbors rallied around the theater and Caruana eventually changed plans and offered to save some space for a smaller Brooklyn Heights Cinema on the first-floor of the planned building.
Lowy is now looking to open a one-screen “annex” for smaller art house films and documentaries, possibly in DUMBO, in addition to his theater in Brooklyn Heights.
And he says he’ll do everything he can to keep it open.
“It’s an incredible little gem,” Lowy said. “And it might be the only cinema left in the city where you can walk in and see the owner.”
Brooklyn Heights Cinema [70 Henry St. at Orange Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 596–5095].Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cn