OXFORD — Falling ticket sales and the looming demise of 35 mm film have signaled the curtain to close on the area’s sole movie theater.

Flagship Cinema founder John Crowley confirmed that Monday will be the final day to catch a new release at the site, an anchor to the strip mall at 1570 Main St. in the Oxford Plaza for the past 17 years.

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Crowley said the closure was because of expected changes from the movie industry rapidly converting exclusively to digital projection.

He pegged the cost to upgrade his reel projectors at $750,000, capital unavailable for investment. Compounding that scenario are flagging ticket sales, which means the location has lost $50,000 annually for the past few years. 

Many theaters are facing the same choice: convert or close, Crowley said.

“It’s very depressing, but where do you get the money?” Crowley asked.

At $4.50 a ticket for matinees and $5.50 for evening shows, Crowley said the cinema had one of the most affordable prices in the state. Yet with changing viewership behaviors, it still couldn’t attract the numbers to warrant the costly conversion.

The announcement comes at a time when small theaters are shuttering their doors across the country, unable to foot a bill being mandated by the film industry.

Crowley said major studios such as Lions Gate and Paramount have already stopped producing film, and most are expected to by the end of the year, cutting off the supply of new movies to theaters without the technology.

“In defense of movie studios, the digital format provides a high-quality product. There’s no loss in visual quality over time.”

According to the company’s website, Flagship Cinemas is a privately held company launched in 1995 with 103 screens in 12 theaters throughout Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida. The company has headquarters outside Boston. 

The decision does not bode ill for other Flagship locations, which have made the transition and where ticket sales remain strong. Flagship has locations in Auburn, Lewiston, Thomaston, Wells and Waterville.

Only the Oxford and Lewiston locations have yet to make the digital upgrade. 

 The cinema has occupied the former Hannaford supermarket site since 1997, when the east wing of the building was renovated.

Real-estate magnate Bob Bahre “bent over backward to keep us here,” Crowley said, subsidizing them so the area would have a movie theater.

“Our entertainment dollar is getting more and more stretched. For younger people they’ll always go to the movies for the social value,” he said.

Tapping new audiences has been a brainstorming feat. Auburn’s cinema has offered free admission to children under 10 in the morning. Crowley said he may try a similar strategy with people over 65.

“Times change; we have to adapt,” he said.

According to Speedway Inc. property manager Nancy Cushman, the cinema will be out of the building completely by Oct. 1. 

Suitors eyeing the site have been in touch, but she did not disclose if any offers had been made. 

There will not be an auction for the projection equipment; it will be thrown away. 

“There’s no one making film anymore where a person could use this equipment,” Crowley said.

 Shopping near the cinema on Thursday afternoon, the news came as a shock to John Hicinbothem of Bethel, who along with wife, Tori, make the drive from Bethel to see new releases.

“We’ve been coming here for years to see the movies. It’s terrible,” Hicinbothem said.

The couple was disappointed when the Casablanca Cinema 4 in Bethel closed in 2012 and were dismayed at the thought of driving to Auburn to see the latest film. 

Like other families wondering about the loss, Tori said she wonders where youths will go for a safe activity.

“The saddest part is for the kids,” she said.

Mary Elliott, whose children converge on the movies as a hang-out place after school and on vacation, pondered the same thing.

“It’s one of the few inexpensive family things we could all do together,” Elliott said. 

Hicinbothem said the area, which serves as an economic hub for small surrounding towns, should be able to make a sound economic case for another theater.

“It’s the perfect first date,” he said.

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