Katya Agrawal, Contributing Photographer

Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas, the last commercial movie theater in New Haven, closed Thursday.

The movie theater, which opened in 2004 and was located at 86 Temple St. in downtown New Haven, was the last non-pornographic movie theater within city limits. In a press release announcing the closing, Bow Tie Partners, the theater’s owner, blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for causing “dramatic changes” to the movie business in markets like New Haven, rendering the business unviable. 

Bow Tie Management CEO Joseph Masher did not respond to a request to comment.

City residents and film enthusiasts lamented the closing and stopped by to say their goodbyes to the theater and its staff.

 “I don’t think it’s any secret that arts and cultural institutions and really, the creative landscape, have suffered since the pandemic,” Adriane Jefferson, New Haven’s director of arts, culture and tourism, said.

She also cited the economic pressures of streaming movies and the lack of arts funding from the state, which often leaves arts organizations and municipal agencies scrambling to raise money. 

Jefferson’s department has a budget of $190,000 each year from the city. She told the News she has to fundraise for all the other costs of supporting arts and tourism in New Haven.

At the same time, Jefferson was quick to note that Bow Tie’s closing was an isolated incident, not representative of the vibrancy of New Haven’s arts scene as a whole.

“When it comes to arts in economic tourism, the local support of people who continue to visit our cultural institutions, attend events, dine in our restaurants — the numbers are very encouraging,” Jefferson said.

Bow Tie’s last day marked by nostalgia and remembrances 

On Thursday, Bow Tie’s last day of operation, the theater’s doors opened at 12:30 p.m. At 11:15 a.m. — the time the theater normally opens — Colson Jones ’24, a student shooting a documentary about the theater’s closing, was standing outside.

New Haven resident Paul Garlinghouse, who was also there to catch a movie on the final day, commented on how the theater had drawn “more journalists than clients.” Garlinghouse was there to watch “The Creator,” a film by Gareth Edwards. 

“It’s the last picture show,” Garlinghouse said. “I’ve been coming here for years with my son, who’s in his twenties now. It’s just part of downtown, and it’s sad to lose that.” 

At least a dozen moviegoers came in shaking their heads and offering their condolences to the employees working ticket sales. As the afternoon wore on, more and more young people trickled in to watch a show. Most were there to see “Bottoms” or “Saw X.” 

Charlie, a Bow Tie employee who declined to give his last name, told the News that the afternoon saw far more foot traffic than normal. There were no more than 10 people in the lobby at any one moment between 3 and 5:30 p.m.

Charlie described the community the theater created. 

“Two women, they had been friends for 68 years, and they came here every Wednesday, had a coffee or a tea and chose what movie they were going to see,” he said. “They came in for the last time last Wednesday.” 

He paused to take a selfie with a patron who had come in just to say goodbye. 

“It’s sad, it’s nostalgic, but it’s also good to see what a positive impact we’ve had.” 

Locals mourn the closing, express mixed feelings about Bow Tie

Natalie Semmel ’25, a film and media studies major who has lived in New Haven since she was six years old, said she sees Bow Tie’s closing as a consequence of its corporate ownership and lack of independent feel.

“If there were a smaller independent theater in town, people might be actually invested in the theater itself, not just in having a movie theater,” Semmel said, “[Bow Tie] is the only movie theater in New Haven proper, and at the same time, it’s not a particularly good movie theater.” 

Still, as Bow Tie closes, there is uncertainty about the future of film in New Haven.

Michael Kerbel, the director of the Yale Film Archive, noted in an e-mail to the News that the only public film showings in the city are now based out of Yale. According to Kerbel, Yale’s free film screenings drew a total audience of around 3,000 during the 2022-2023 academic year.

Kerbel lamented that the loss of Bow Tie would decrease the diversity of movies and moviegoing audiences in New Haven.

“Considering New Haven’s large population, and the demographics and diversity of that population (which mirror those of movie audiences generally), it is terrible to leave such a vacuum,” Kerbel wrote. “People can still see the latest Marvel movie in those showcases (if they have cars), but where will they see independent and non-English language films?” 

The city of New Haven is also looking for a way to allow Bow Tie to return in a new form. 

Jefferson said that her department, which operates under the city’s Economic Development Administration, is collaborating with Bow Tie management to create “new models” for the theater.

“Right now, they’re revamping. They’re closed down as we know [them], but they are considering ways that they might come back,” Jefferson said.

The Bow Tie Partners press release used similar language, saying that the company was considering several options for the Temple Street space, including creating “new entertainment offerings.” 

The last movie screened at Bow Tie theater was “Stop Making Sense,” which went up on the big screen at 8 p.m.

Correction, Nov. 11: The phrasing of Yale’s film screenings was updated to better reflect the variety of film screening groups within the University.