West Side fury

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  • The old Metro theater sign. Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim, via flickr

This time I am angry. No, not just angry. Furious, sad, appalled and stunned. Just as I was learning that our local Petco on 99th and Columbus was closing due to rising rents, just as I absorbed that the Joon fish store closed because of rising rents, I was kicked in the stomach by reading that the Lincoln Plaza Cinema at 64nd and Broadway is closing at the end of January. No, I bellowed, no, not Lincoln Plaza Cinema. For 35 years this has been the only real arthouse cinema on the Upper West Side. Yes, we have a few new ones such as The Walter Reade and the Elinor Bunin, but nothing compares to Lincoln Plaza. It’s not fancy, it’s not upscale, but it is an Upper West Side institution that has shown reliably excellent American and foreign films since Hector was a pup.

It’s not for lack of business that it’s closing. The lease is expiring and Toby and Dan Talbot, who have run the theater for 35 years, say Milstein Properties will not come to terms on a lease. Milstein says that they have to do repairs and waterproofing on the plaza surrounding the theater and that they cannot do it while the theater is open. They will not return calls about whether the rent is being raised beyond the Talbots’ ability to pay. They claim that they plan to have it return as an art theater, but I’ve also heard that the moon is made of cheese. There is no word on whether the Talbots are confirmed to return to run the theater.

The community is in an uproar over this closing, and I’m not in a trusting mood. Many, me among them, feel that Milstein wants to sell the property, and I’m smelling the greed that is responsible for closing so many enterprises all over the city in the hopes of a big money return. Greed. The story all over town, but the Upper West Side is my beat and so I will stick to talking about my turf. Closings, closings and more closings. Lincoln Plaza’s closing breaks my heart, but my stomach has been affected too. When they closed Sugar & Plumm, there went the best lemon ricotta pancakes I’ve ever had. When they closed Deluxe Diner on 110th and Broadway, they took away a really excellent diner, and good diners are hard to find these days. Then Elizabeth’s, on 94th and Columbus closed. Yes, they have Elizabeth’s menu at its sister restaurant, Gabriella’s, but it’s not the same having a farm to table menu at a Mexican restaurant as it was having it served in a lovely cottage with a picket fence in front. You don’t see that often in New York. Gone! And what happens; the stores and restaurants stay empty for ages, sometimes for years. What has the landlord gained? Oh, my poor neighborhood. I’m afraid to take a walk sometimes for fear of what will be closing next.

Lincoln Plaza Cinema is not in my neighborhood, actually, but it’s part of the soul of the Upper West Side. What is in my neighborhood is the shell of the old Metro Theater, which could easily become an art house cinema if someone cared to chance it. It stands empty. Over the years many things have been rumored to be coming there, but nothing has panned out.

Folks, this is not acceptable. We need a good movie up here, and with Lincoln Plaza closing, we need it even more. And the building is there, just waiting to be renovated and used. There is a market for this type of cinema on the Upper West Side; let’s get moving. And let’s tell Milstein Properties that it’s not acceptable to close a venerable theater, which so many of us love and rely on. My heart is sick over what’s happening to my neighborhood (and my city). We don’t need another Duane Reade (please!); we don’t need another bank (heaven forbid). Come on folks, let’s protest. At least let’s try to save the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and if we can’t, at least let’s make sure that the landlords know we are furious at what is happening up here.

A rally anyone?

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