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Columbia's Nickelodeon Theatre re-closes, citing rising COVID numbers, low attendance

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The Nickelodeon Theatre marquee on the morning of March 18.

Less than a month after reopening for reduced-capacity screenings on Dec. 11, the Nickelodeon Theatre is closed again.

Columbia’s lone arthouse cinema announced via social media on Jan. 5 that it was “again suspending screenings due to high COVID rates and low attendance.” The theater resumed showings last month for the first time since shuttering in March when the ongoing pandemic first took hold. It hosted a series of Holly Jolly Holiday screenings of seasonal films from years past and showed one anticipated new indie film, the Carrie Mulligan-starring “Promising Young Woman,” while back in action.

“We had heard from many fans that they were eager for the Nick to open and people celebrated our re-opening but given current deteriorating COVID conditions, I think people have been recalculating risk, again,” Anita Floyd — executive director of the Columbia Film Society, which oversees the theater — told Free Times.

South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 4,219 new cases for Dec. 30, and daily totals have remained above 2,000 since, continuing the spike in infections seen by the state throughout the holiday season.

“We couldn’t afford to remain open through this current surge given attendance,” Floyd added, “not knowing how long the surge would last and the impact of the new COVID strain.”

She said the success of the Nick’s screenings during its brief reopening varied. “Elf” — which did well across COVID-hampered domestic box offices, becoming the No. 3 highest grossing film in America at one point in December — was a hit for the Nick. “Promising Young Woman” saw averages across its screenings that were almost identical to the returns for the theater’s holiday offerings, Floyd reported.

“We saw many articles, reviews and interviews as well as national commercials for the film,” she said of “Promising Young Woman.” “The distributor offered promotional items for screenings. It is a good film, too, the kind of interesting, provocative film we like to offer. With the boost in marketing, we had high hopes for the film as our first, first-run film. Of course, it was also much more expensive than the (Holly Jolly Holiday) films. Having to pay rates as high for 25 (seats) as when we were offering 100 seats made for a thin margin.”

The Nick will continue to show films in its virtual screening room at nickelodeon.org, as it has since the spring, though Floyd told Free Times in December that those offerings have done “very little as far as revenue.”

As to when the theater might make another go at reopening, that remains — like most things during this pandemic — uncertain.

“On the health and safety side, we will be watching the rates, the impact of vaccine distribution and recommendations of health care experts,” Floyd said. “We also will watch the content stream closely to see what new films the studios and distributors are willing to offer in theatres.”

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