Movie theaters are having an especially hard time during the pandemic. Ticket sales have plunged and there barely any new releases. That’s why while flipping through a stack of mail one afternoon at the West Newton Cinema, a letter caught owner David Bramante’s eye.
Sitting alone in his office, he saw it wasn’t typed out like a bill or invoice. He figured the hand-addressed envelope must be personal. “I just couldn't believe it,” he says. “It just almost kind of knocked me off my feet that somebody would take the time to write that and say those kinds of things about the theater.”
“Dear ladies and gentlemen,” starts the letter, followed by a polite request to resume offering movie times by phone. Writer Linda Black explains that she’s 91. She drives but does not own a computer.
At first, Bramante worried because his phone had been out of order. Then he kept reading the letter:
“I have been looking forward for months to my final decade on this planet, coming to you weekly to see important new films. Now, with all symphony, opera and theater performances closed, your presentations have become a lifeline for me.”
The letter continues: “We love you as you are! Do not change! We love you because of what you are!”
“I just kind of welled up a little bit,” says Bramante. He has owned and operated the West Newton Cinema for more than 42 years. He’s weathered ups and downs through the decades but nothing like the last six or so months.
Last year Black says she made a weekly routine of catching an art house title at the West Newton, then stopping off at the supermarket on her way home to Cambridge. “And I loved this theater and the funky everything about it,” she says.
But then the pandemic hit. The theater closed and she was stuck at home. “I’m used to being alone at home. Most of my life. So much of my life,” she says while standing in the theater’s lobby. That’s why, she explains, “I'm hoping, hoping, hoping, hoping that this theater survives because it's now become part of my life.”
The theater reopened in mid-July. When Black resumed her regular movie-going about a month ago, just a few days after sending the letter, she noticed that one man sells the tickets, pops the popcorn and runs up to the projection booth to start the show.
“There was nobody else anywhere,” she recalls. So she looked out at that man and asked, ‘Are you the person that I sent a love letter to last summer?’
It was Bramante. He usually employs 15 people, but since the pandemic struck he works on his own. He says he doesn’t remember receiving another love letter at the theater. And even though he’s too busy to watch movies during work, he still can’t get enough of them. He’s convinced public moviegoing will rebound.
“People will come back. Movies will come back. I watched a movie this morning. I came down at eight o'clock and put on a movie and watched it. It was great,” he says.
In case you’re wondering, it was a love story.
This segment aired on October 23, 2020.