Arkansas movie theatre closes after 80 years

El Dorado News-Times - - News -

LIT­TLE ROCK (AP) — An Arkansas movie theater has closed its doors after 80 years in op­er­a­tion.

There are no im­me­di­ate plans for the fu­ture of the Ritz Theatre in down­town Malvern, but own­ers Marla and Marty Nix hope to sell it, Marla Nix said to the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette . The theater, which opened in 1938, closed re­cently after the cou­ple took jobs at Malvern Coun­try Club.

Part of the de­ci­sion stemmed from a light­ning strike in Oc­to­ber that took out one of the theater's pro­jec­tors. Re­pairs would have cost more than $40,000, Marla Nix said.

When the Nixes re­ceived job of­fers at the coun­try club after the light­ning strike, they de­cided to close the theater they bought in 1991, Marla Nix said. She had worked at the Ritz for 37 years, and Marty Nix had worked there for 29 years.

"It's time for us to do some­thing dif­fer­ent," Marla Nix said.

She said the clos­ing has been hard for res­i­dents be­cause the theater was a cen­ter of the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

The theater has "an old-school feel of a home­town theater," ac­cord­ing to Lance How­ell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Malvern/Hot Springs Cham­ber of Com­merce.

The Ritz is be­lieved to be the sec­ond-old­est movie theater in Arkansas. The Scott Theater in Wal­dron claims to be the state's old­est op­er­at­ing movie theater.

The Nixes or­ga­nized school field trips to the theater and a doc­u­men­tary com­pe­ti­tion among stu­dents, long­time pa­tron Brenda Keisler said.

Keisler has watched movies at the Ritz since she was a lit­tle girl. She and her hus­band went on dates to the theater be­fore they mar­ried 45 years ago.

Be­fore the clos­ing, Keisler went to the theater at least twice a month and some­times as many as four times a month.

Keisler said the Nixes went out of their way to ac­com­mo­date guests. They had the cou­ple's or­ders mem­o­rized: Keisler got a bot­tle of wa­ter, and her hus­band got a Diet Coke with light ice and pop­corn.

She said she also ap­pre­ci­ated the low prices at the Ritz. Tick­ets were $6 for mati­nee show­ings and $7 for evenings, Marla Nix said.

"We've seen a lot of peo­ple grown up there," Marla Nix said. "You put that many years in, you see mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions."

The theater closed once be­fore, in 2008, but re­opened months later after an out­pour­ing of sup­port from pa­trons.

The Ritz first opened in De­cem­ber 1938, screen­ing The Mad Miss Man­ton, a dark com­edy about a so­cialite who gets wrapped up in a mur­der.

At the time, the Malvern Daily Record de­scribed the Ritz as "one of Arkansas' lat­est and most mod­ern mov­ing pic­ture the­aters." It had one screen at the time. A later owner di­vided the au­di­to­rium in two and added a sec­ond screen.

The Ritz also is a part of the Malvern Com­mer­cial His­toric Dis­trict, which is listed on the Na­tional Regis­ter of His­toric Places, said Melissa Whit­field, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Depart­ment of Arkansas Her­itage.

Malvern Mayor Brenda Wel­don said the Nixes worked hard to make the theater look nice with­out com­pro­mis­ing the in­tegrity of the place. She em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses.

"They've got to pa­tron­ize the small busi­nesses to keep them open," Wel­don said.

Marla Nix said the cou­ple hopes a buyer will come along and "con­tinue do­ing this for the com­mu­nity."

The theater's fi­nal screen­ing was Mary Pop­pins Re­turns.

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