2 Oct 2021
Earlier this year, the owners of the Bailey’s Shopping Center decided to permanently close the islands’ only movie theater, Island Cinema (We should note that the BIG Arts center does show films on Monday nights from November to April, but these are mostly independent films and documentaries instead of first-run films and blockbusters.). The building will be demolished as part of a new expansion project.
Opened in 1972, it was originally a one-screen theater which offered the convenience of enjoying a movie without having to go all the way into Fort Myers. In 1994, the building underwent a renovation to provide two screens. Guest blogger Matt recalls the transition; “I was working nights in the 1990s, so I didn’t often have a chance to go to the Island Cinema, but I resolved to go at least once. There was one movie I saw when it was a one-screen theater, which was True Lies. I remember it was fun to see it in a small theater with the community (much like it was in a small town where I grew up) instead of going to a multiplex like you’d see in larger cities.”
“One of the first movies after the theater went to two screens was Just Cause, which was mostly filmed in Lee and Collier Counties and starred Sean Connery, Lawrence Fishburne, and a new young actress named Scarlett Johansson. The design of the theater, in my opinion, was not well thought out. There was a center aisle with three seats on one side and two on the other. The screens also seemed much smaller than they should be. They were never meant to be IMAX, but they could have been i-mini.”
“When I returned to Florida in 2007, I had had several occasions to give Island Cinema another chance. I’m glad I did. The theaters were re-designed with a side aisle so that a group could sit together in the same row. The screens were improved and also featured local advertising prior to the start of the film. Concessions were also better with a wider range of refreshments and snacks. It felt larger, cleaner, and more comfortable. When I was checking guests in, the theater would be on my mind to suggest for rainy day activities, especially if there were any kid-friendly features.”
Like all the other theater chains, Island Cinema was forced to shut down during the pandemic. When limited seating became available again in the summer of 2020, the owners tried to bolster the theater by offering rentals for private screenings. However, it became clear that they could not continue to sustain the business and decided to close the theater to make way for an expansion project at Bailey’s General Store. It was an especially difficult decision for the owners (who regard themselves as moviegoers) and called Island Cinema “a nostalgic piece of island charm” when interviewed by the Santiva Chronicle.
We’re hoping that there will be something done to memorialize the theater when the time comes, much like the preservation of memorabilia done for Timmy’s Nook by the American Legion.
Book Direct and Save…and pass the popcorn (Down in front!).