Located in the heart of downtown Niantic is one of the few remaining independently owned and operated cinemas in Connecticut, Niantic Cinema. Run by the Mitchell family since 1978, the five-screen movie theater is currently co-managed by Peter Mitchell and Joe Couillard. The Niantic landmark is a corporation owned by Peter’s uncle, aunt and father – George Mitchell, Debbie Kendros and Terry Mitchell. The Main Street building has functioned as a cinema for 71 years, making it one of the oldest continually functioning businesses in East Lyme.
After closing their doors for many months during the Covid-19 pandemic, Niantic Cinema is pleased to announce their grand re-opening for Friday, June 25, with a ribbon cutting to mark the special day. They anticipate the following movie line-up for opening week: In the Heights, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Fast and Furious 9, Peter Rabbit 2 and Cruella.
Peter Mitchell grew up in Niantic. After graduating with an English major from the University of Vermont, he lived in New York City for several years working on film productions and eventually at a talent agency. When he returned to Niantic, he worked for a time in the local school system. In the last thirteen years, he’s worked as a licensed real estate agent. He also markets, leases and rents all of the storefronts and apartments for his family’s real estate business in addition to co-managing the cinema.
Co-manager Joe Coulliard has worked at the cinema for many years. He started out as a projectionist and later took on the management role. Joe’s tastes in film truly run the gamut. While he’s an American film enthusiast, he also enjoys Italian, Asian and Western movies.
The Mitchell family has an interesting history. Peter’s grandfather, Peter Mitchell, was a Greek immigrant who escaped persecution in 1908 in Asia Minor, present day Turkey. When he arrived in New York City, he joined his brothers to become a peanut/ice cream vendor. He eventually made his way to Niantic, where he started out by pushing a vegetable cart from Niantic to New London. It was here that he partnered with Leonidas Dousis and Socrates Deligeorges. Mr. Dousis owned the building to the right of the cinema, currently Olde Red Salt Box and the Book Barn Downtown. Mr. Deligeorges owned a soda fountain shop and a package store to the left of the cinema, now Subway and Anna’s Pearl’s Curiosities. A bowling alley was located in the rear of the building where cinema #1 is today. Peter’s grandfather lived in a house where the cinema is now located.
In 1930, Peter Mitchell returned to Greece to visit with his family. What was originally planned as a six-month trip turned into a 2-year visit where he met and married Evangelia Panas. While he was in Greece, his two business partners parted ways with him due to his extended absence.
In the late 1940s, local contractor Alphonse Dubreuil convinced Socrates Deligeorges to build a single screen cinema in downtown Niantic. Sam Cornish, an experienced movie house operator, was sought out for his expertise. The three men became partners in the business and the cinema opened in March 1950 with 700 seats and the latest luxuries in cinema décor; air conditioning and plush seating were touted as amenities.
By 1978, the single screen cinema was struggling. When it was put up for sale, the Mitchell Trust bought it and ran it for a year; they found it hard to fill the large number of seats with a single movie. Twin and triplex cinemas were already popping up in nearby communities. It was at this time that local contractor William Caulkins suggested splitting the cinema into three auditoriums. They took a chance, and the gamble was a success. When the bowling alley closed, at first a carpet business opened in that space. But when the carpet business closed, the Mitchell family seized the opportunity to put in a fourth screen. In 2003, they acquired the Dousis Building and added a fifth screen.
The Niantic community is wonderfully supportive of the cinema. The building holds warm memories for many people in the area. Peter loves when he hears stories that begin with some variation of “I saw my first movie here; it was Jaws, E.T., Friday the 13th.. and we came back to see it another half dozen times.” These same people are now bringing their children and grandchildren to the theater today. Peter says, “I think that is a wonderful testament to what the movie-going experience means to so many and certainly what this building symbolizes in Niantic.”
Over the years, the Niantic Cinema has welcomed the opportunity to partner with businesses and groups in town and throughout the Greater New London area. For example, movie passes can often be found as gifts or promotions given by local restaurants, dentists’ offices or realtors. Christian Harvest Fellowship met upstairs in cinema #4 for many years. Students often visit from Waterford Country School and the Light House Voc-Ed program. A special program for autistic children ran for several years featuring the lights up and the sound down so these children could more comfortably enjoy the movie. East Lyme High School’s Senior Class has held midnight show fundraisers. The cinema enjoys being an integral part of the fabric of Niantic’s Main Street.
As the cinema re-opens, they feel it’s important to extend themselves to communities outside of East Lyme. They’ve invited the pastors, civic leaders and businesspeople in the Latino community to come and enjoy In the Heights at the cinema. Peter says, “Friends who have seen the Broadway production tell me they are pleased we will show the movie. The movie’s message is wonderfully optimistic, an incredibly uplifting movie about the hopes and dreams of children, parents and grandparents growing up in Washington Heights, New York. It’s a story which I think will easily resonate here.”
Niantic Cinema has continually worked to define their niche as the industry changes. Peter shares, “What worked five years ago does not necessarily work today.” The team has many conversations about what other theaters are offering and what might work in our community. Part of their vision includes showing more movies that explore topics to appeal to the diverse populations in the Greater New London area. Peter says, “I think In the Heights is a step in that direction.” Another idea they’ve considered is bringing in Sopranos Sessions. The three-hour documentary with the cast and crew of the popular HBO series The Sopranos dissects the storyline from three different vantage points. It represents some hardcore programming for devoted fans of a show that is widely considered to be one of the greatest television series of all time.
The theater will require unvaccinated individuals to continue to wear masks. They’re not required if you’ve been vaccinated. The staff will continue to wear masks for now. Signs will be posted, and hand sanitizer will be available.
Beginning on June 25 when the theater reopens, the cinema will once again be open seven days a week.
Tickets at the Cinema
Matinees or shows starting before 6pm everyone is $8.
Children 3-11 & Seniors 60 and older are always $8.
Military are always $8.
Adults 12-59 are $10 to shows beginning after 6pm.
Reopening Friday, June 25
Ribbon cutting Friday, June 25 at 3pm
279 Main Street, Niantic
860-739-6920 (Movie Phone)
About Our Main Street Blogger:
Joanne lives in, and loves, our community. She was looking for an opportunity to help share all that our local businesses do to make East Lyme such a special place to call home, and she is excited to contribute to our blog. Joanne brings to the role her experience from New London Main Street where she contributed content to their website, newsletters and email communications for many years.