The Nickelodeon Theatre is known to many simply as the Nick. Ask someone if he or she has ever been there, and memories pour out of Oscar parties, great movies and old friends. And now, the Nick is starting a new history, building on its storied past and unrivaled culture, as it opens on Main Street this August.
The decision to move the theater from its location near U.S.C. was made in 2005 with the purchase of the building downtown. Today – many plans, discussions and years later – the new Nick is ready for primetime. “We all will reap the benefits of the inspiring vision of our strong board of directors, who had great plans for the Nick, as well as Main Street,” says Andy Smith, the theater’s executive director.
Lights … camera … popcorn!
Moving to the new Nick brings great opportunity for Columbia’s film lovers. Along with enhanced sound and image quality, thanks to a new DCP system and beautiful Kinotone 35 mm projectors, the theater will have access to new releases sooner. But the intimate viewing experience that Nick patrons have come to expect remains. “We have been very protective of many parts of the Nick culture and, while we are creating a new space that continues to provide the same experience, we are also encouraging more personal interaction and hope to serve as a gathering point for people from a wide range of diverse communities,” adds Andy.
While the atmosphere is sure to remain welcoming, the team at the Nick has worked hard to ensure the new theater will be inviting in ways the current space hasn’t always been – from the new equipment and additional screens to easier access to parking and an improved atmosphere. The new Nick will no doubt draw in people who may not have perceived the old Nick as their kind of space.
Frank Baker, media education consultant and past board member of the Columbia Film Society, is anxiously awaiting the theater’s opening. “I know it will bring more people not only to the Nick but also to downtown,” he says.
Lee Jane Kaufman, Distinguished Professor Emerita of USC’s Department of Political Science, couldn’t agree more. “I am so excited that the Nick is going to be a pillar of revitalization of Main Street,” she says. “Just knowing that the Nick is moving to a new location has encouraged new business investments and a greater interest in being downtown on Main Street in the evening. I love that we will be in a beautifully restored movie theater that honors our city’s history and will accommodate many more movie lovers.”
For Lee Jane, the Community Film Forum Series at the Nick has provided much enjoyment. During the series, held once a month, a documentary with local implications is shown, followed by a discussion with the filmmakers or others knowledgeable about how the community is affected by the issues raised in the film. “We all participate in a general discussion about the film,” she says. “These events are fun and inspiring and bring out the experiences and wisdom of our community.”
In addition to enlightening series such as this, the Nick will also have a brand new educational element, including media education classes for K-12 students. “We knew our Nick must have a strong education component when we viewed the success of other programs across the country,” says Frank. “I am looking forward to the opening of the Helen Hill Education Center and seeing young people learn about media and film literacy.”
The history of media isn’t lost on Nick’s customers, who have viewed both classics and cult hits at the Nick. “For years, I have gone to the Nick with my wife to see films that I had read reviews about and thought looked interesting, provocative and intriguing,” says Frank. “Several years ago, at my request, they obtained a film print of To Kill A Mockingbird. I was invited to do a discussion following the screening. It was pure joy to sit in the back of the theater and remember when I was a child and had first seen the film.”
The lobby at the new Nickelodeon is home to The Jewel Box – aptly named after a former store on Main Street – where patrons can purchase snacks.
For sure, leaving the old theater is a bit bittersweet. Andy remembers his first time at the Nick in the 1980s. “I came to see the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine,” he says. “It was definitely a movie-going experience unlike any I’d ever had. To think of the number of incredible filmmakers who have visited the space, the number of friendships that have formed in those theater seats, and the number of times someone’s life has been changed by something they saw in that room, you can’t help but feel a little sad about leaving it.” That sadness, however, doesn’t rival the intense excitement the new theater is bringing to all involved – including the Nick staff, who will finally be moving out of a basement office into a workspace with windows and central heating and air. What’s more, Nick guests will enjoy spacious new restrooms that can now accommodate more than one person at a time.
The transition to the new space is sure to be a transformational one for the Nick. “The new Nick represents not only a great expansion in what films we are able to show and to whom we show them but also the growth of the Nick into media education and filmmaker services,” says Andy. The City of Columbia will certainly reap the benefits of the success of the new theater. Andy anticipates bringing more than 60,000 people to Main Street annually once the overall renovation of the new Nick is complete, having a significant impact on the economy and the downtown area.
It’s a sad fact that independent art theaters are a rare commodity across the country. The Nick serves as yet another feather in the cap of Columbia by providing a special creative space for South Carolinians. It is keeping the spirit of independent films and culture alive, while bringing a new flair, new guests and a renewed promise for lovers of film – not to mention a wonderful way to support the community. Frank Baker puts it best: “The Nick has always been a unique theater-going experience. It’s intimate and special. Don’t miss it.”