Nugget Theaters reopen, pandemic restrictions still in place

Hanover’s downtown cinema is eager to welcome back movie-goers for weekend viewings.

by Pierce Wilson | 7/9/21 1:05am

by Lona Girardin / The Dartmouth

On June 18, downtown Hanover’s Nugget Theaters reopened for in-person screenings, showing three movies each day on weekends. The theater reopened with COVID-19 restrictions and protections in place. These include plexiglass partitions in the ticketing area, required masks for patrons when not enjoying concessions, 50% occupancy limits in each theater, extra cleaning and sanitization, assigned seating for patrons and a brand new $800,000 HVAC system. 

According to Hanover Improvement Society general manager Jeff Graham, the HIS — which operates the Nugget  — decided to close the theatre down last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic first began. Though they tried to re-open in July 2020, the theater saw very little attendance. 

“We tried it for a couple of weeks last summer,” said Graham. “Nobody was interested in coming to the movies, and it’s an expensive building to operate, so it just was not worth it. We finally just said, ‘You know what, let’s shut her down, see how things go and reevaluate month by month.’” 

Graham said that after consulting local health officials and medical experts from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the improvement society decided that it was safe to reopen this summer given all of the new COVID-19 precautions they have implemented. He also emphasized how helpful the new HVAC system will be in reducing potential transmission because it is “state-of-the-art” and does “an incredible job” of circulating air out of all four theaters. He explained that the improvement society talks about these restrictions and protections almost daily and will continue to make decisions about them on a monthly basis. 

“I would say these [precautions] will be in play definitely through [July],” Graham said. “I'll be reaching out to our health experts that we rely on and get their input to see what they think. Other theaters across the state are wide open, but we’re not feeling that comfortable yet.” 

From summer 2020 through spring 2021, the Nugget offered free popcorn — with encouraged donations — every Friday. Graham said that this was an effort to “keep the Nugget in everybody’s mind,” and to help keep the theater open during a financially difficult time. Graham said that the Nugget received “incredible” support from community members through donations, noting that on some days, proceeds exceeded $1,000.

“The Nugget’s been around since 1916, and it's an incredible asset to the Main Street community that we don't want people to lose track of,” Graham said.

Rothschild Toussaint ’23 — who is looking forward to seeing “Space Jam 2” at the Nugget this summer — said that he visited the theater and made a donation in October 2020. 

Although several Hanover businesses — including the Nugget’s neighbor, Morano Gelato — closed as a result of the pandemic, Graham said that the Nugget “is a little different in that [it is] a movie theater and everybody loves to go to the movies.” Outside of the Nugget and the College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts, the nearest movie theater to Hanover is the Entertainment Cinema in Lebanon. 

Dartmouth Film Society executive Vania Ding ’23 has seen many films at the Nugget and said that she misses the experience of being in the theater. Ding said that she understands why the restrictions are in place and emphasized how the community on campus is different from the Hanover community at large.

“What we consider to be safe can be different for a lot of people, because we as a community are almost fully vaccinated at this point,” Ding said. 

Toussaint also said that he supports the continued restrictions and that he doesn’t think he will mind wearing a mask in the theater.

“I feel that if a business wants to uphold any type of COVID rules, they should be able to,” he said. “I think, as a customer, you know that you are buying their product or their service, and you should abide by the rules.”

Finn Hulse ’23 said that he grew up visiting the Nugget and is excited to return this summer, noting that he has had the same concession order — popcorn and a box of Dots — since childhood. He added he is comfortable with visiting the movie theater as he is fully vaccinated, but he feels as though the 50% occupation limit at the Nugget may dull the movie-going experience. 

“I think there’s a certain joy in being crammed together, watching a premiere of a movie that everyone's really enjoying and people are crying or laughing, so I feel like 50% might be a little low,” he said.  

Toussaint echoed Hulse’s note about the social and artistic value of viewing movies in a theater and the unique experience that comes from being surrounded by fellow movie-goers. 

“I would say [the theater] is primarily a social event,” Toussaint said, “When I went to see Avengers: Endgame’ for the first time, I couldn't have imagined not seeing it on the big screen, because you need that crowd reaction.” 

According to Graham, each weekend since the Nugget has opened, it has seen a “huge uptick” in attendance, and that he looks forward to what the rest of the summer might bring. 

“‘Black Widow’ is starting this week, and that’s gonna be huge because those movies have a cult following,” Graham said. “I'm very excited about what the fall is going to bring. I just think we're going to be back and better than we were before.