By Leslie H. Dixon
OXFORD – The curtain is about to rise again at the former Flagship Cinema in the Oxford Plaza on Main Street.
The Flagship Cinema will re-open as early as this summer as FPC (Flagship Premium Cinema) John Crowley, founder and president of the Boston-based movie theater company, told the Advertiser Democrat Tuesday afternoon.
“Bob Bahre has made it one of his priorities to get back in and open up the cinema,” said Crowley of the theater that was considered an anchor to the strip mall at 1570 Main St. in the Oxford Plaza
The cinema closed in September of 2014 when falling ticket sales and the expensive industry mandated conversion to digital projections signaled the demise of the theater which for 17 years had provided the sole movie venue for theatergoers in the Oxford Hills area.
At that time, Crowley said the cost to upgrade the 35mm reel projectors to digital projectors was an estimated $750,000. The high costs of the conversion caused a number of small theaters throughout the country to close its doors at the time.
The Flagship Theater in Lewiston which did not convert to digital projection was forced to close in 2015, but the 10-screen Flagship theater in Auburn, which was converted, remains open.
Crowley said the movie industry is now also insisting on upgraded digital surround sound systems, an added cost to the re-opening.
The reopening seemed doomed until a recent lunch between Crowley and Bahre.
“I went up to meet with Bob for lunch one day and he said, ‘I want you back.’ I told him the money doesn’t justify it. He said, ‘lets make a deal,” Crowley said of his lunchtime conversation with Bahre.
Crowley said Bahre and his son Gary Bahre made sure the leasing terms were such that Flagship Cinema would not only be able to update the business, but make it a luxury – “premium” – business.
“I’m happy to have it back,” Bahre told the Advertiser Democrat. “I think it’s going to be a very good help to the whole area.”
Although not a movie buff himself, Bahre said re-opening the movie theater would be good for the people of Oxford Hills and, in turn, its businesses, including his own.
The Oxford Plaza strip mall has several other vacancies but Bahre said he is currently negotiating a lease deal with a well-known nationwide retail footwear outlet that will bring more activity to the area and he hopes will stimulate interest in his other storefronts.
Crowley said the cinema is not going to be the same one that local folks remember.
“It’s going to be quite a bit different. Cinema has gone into a different venue. In fact we changed the name to FPC – Flagship Premium Cinema. It’s an entirely different theater than we were building 10 years ago,” Crowley said.
Although movie prices will increase, the seven screens will remain to provide the flexibility in movie offerings that are necessary to keep business thriving. The theater will not only have digital projectors and upgraded sound systems, but luxury seats which provides large, stuffed seating, a concession stand that will feature the staple popcorn and Pepsi and other products, plus a new self-service Pepsi stand.
The luxury seating will reduce the seating capacity by about 50 percent but provide the movie goer with a much more comfortable experience, he said. “People seem to be looking for comfort.”
Three things – carpets, projectors and chairs – could have held up the reopening, but Crowley said he is confident that by re-allocating resources from some of his other theaters, the Oxford theater will open this summer.
Crowley said they are currently working on re-opening their Falmouth Flagship Cinema and because of that he can use resources from Falmouth in Oxford. Additionally with a dozen theaters throughout Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida, Crowley said he can also reallocate resources – such as the luxury chairs that were heading to one of his theaters in Maryland – to Oxford to expedite the re-opening process.
“We’re going to be able to open up a lot sooner because of this.”
The process to reopen with updated equipment also requires additional, time consuming and expensive issues. For example, Crowley said, because of the digital demands, the projection room has to be completely sanitized and sterile. Measurements of the screen size and flow from the booth to the screen have to be exact.
Crowley said he in undeterred by any of the issues.
“Bob is so motivated to get the theater back. We will try everything we can to get it open this summer,” Crowley said.