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Credits Roll for Jackson Heights Cinema After Rent Dispute

By Katie Honan | January 15, 2014 9:10am
 The owner's son said they "bit off more than we could chew."
Jackson Heights Cinema
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JACKSON HEIGHTS — The Jackson Heights Cinema, which reopened four years ago in the hopes of bringing multilingual films to the neighborhood, has closed its doors after owing back rent.

The three-screened movie house closed Monday, according to Siva Gunasegaram, 21, whose father, Sagar, ran the theater.

"The rent was more than we could afford," he said, noting that their monthly rent had risen to $28,000. That's a $3,000 increase from when they first signed the lease.

"There's competition with bigger chains, the whole field is changing where it's going into digital. The equipment is very expensive and we'd have to make that investment."

Gunasegaram said they owed the landlord multiple months of rent, and didn't have the money to make the necessary improvements to the theater, which was built in 1924.

He declined to say how much rent they owed, and a call to the landlord, Sona Realty, was not immediately returned.

"We bit off more than we could chew," he said. "The expenses were way too high for us."

The elder Gunasegaram, a Sri Lankan immigrant, was one of the first to bring Bollywood cinema to theaters in New York and New Jersey.

Their business plan when they opened in 2010 was to offer something for everyone in Jackson Heights: Bollywood flicks as well as Hollywood films in English, with Spanish translation.

"We're one of the only theaters that shows mainstream movies with Spanish subtitles," he said. "My father was very proud that he was able to do that."

Gunasegaram helped his father with the movie theater at first but now runs his own, Union Theaters, in Union, N.J.

"My father taught me everything I know," he said. "The movie industry is my father's passion, and it's also my passion."

Despite the high rent and other changes in the movie industry, he said they'd still like to try and work something out with the landlord.

"It's hard for us to give up, but we haven't given up yet," he said.