Editorial: The Nugget’s Long Run

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
The Nugget Theater, turning 100 this year, has fulfilled the hopes of a long-ago editor of The Dartmouth, the college student newspaper, who wrote that a new movie house would make “the dullness of the Hanover winter less dull.” The Nugget did even better: It provided real excitement for many years, when boisterous Dartmouth students made movie-
going interactive, tossing peanuts and other projectiles into the crowd, along with instant commentary. Tom Byrne, who came to Hanover in 1951 as a Dartmouth freshman, summed it up: “The lousier the film, the better the remarks.”

Things are more sedate these days at the Nugget, where college students clutch iPhones, not fistfuls of peanuts, before movie trailers begin. And the Golden Age of Moviegoing is over — in the 1930s, 65 percent of the population went to the movies weekly, according to industry figures. In 2014, even in the prime moviegoing demographic, ages 18-24 and 25-39, only 19 percent went once a month. Through the years competition has grown from television, cable, movie rentals and now, movie streaming, which shrinks the big-screen experience to the size of a hand-held device.

And yet, Nugget manager Michael Kaufman, who has worked at the theater for 20 years, says the movie business in Hanover remains solid. “Even though attendance tends to be volatile industry-wide, the Nugget is as stable today as it was 20 or 30 years ago,” he told freelance writer Jaime Seaton for a story in the Sunday Valley News. That’s good for Hanover and the Upper Valley, and here’s why: In 1922, the original owner, F.W. Davison, president of the Dartmouth Savings Bank, wanted to donate the movie theater to the town, with proceeds going for civic improvements. Since the town charter didn’t allow it, the Hanover Improvement Society was born, and continues to operate the theater. The income has supported Storrs Pond, the Campion Rink, the Black Community Center and more. The total through the years: $2.5 million, which, even with inflation, isn’t peanuts.

The Nugget hasn’t satisfied all moviegoers — some have long wanted more arthouse films — but when one considers the offerings nearby at the Hopkins Center and the Black Family Arts Center — which offer classics, indie flicks, foreign films and art movies — the Upper Valley has plenty of choices. Add in the Lebanon Entertainment Cinemas less than 6 miles down the road, the wide screen at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre and six screens in Claremont, and the Upper Valley more than holds its own.

We are rooting for many more years of success for the Nugget. While the Internet has made movie-watching from a couch easier than ever, there’s still something about sitting with a crowd of people, engulfed in darkness and free of distractions, that invites viewers to enter into a dreamy state where they can find a couple hours of escape, or insight. To lose that entirely to little screens would make the world seem not only duller, but smaller.

Valley News

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