After more than 40 years in business, the Bramante family announced Monday it would sell its iconic West Newton Cinema property to builder Mark Development, though the family hopes to find a new operator to keep the theater running.
David Bramante, who purchased the cinema as a 20-year-old with his brother James in 1978, said his family is exploring the creation of a nonprofit to oversee the cinema business at its current Washington Street location.
Bramante, now 64, said in a phone interview Monday that changes to the theater industry, combined with the impact of COVID-19, ultimately led his family to decide to sell the property and begin the process of handing the reins of the theater to someone else.
“You realize after all these years, what a part of the community you’ve become. Not me, but the building, the institution of it. It’s a wonderful business,” Bramante said.
He took a reporter’s call while at work at the Washington Street cinema and acknowledged some mixed feelings discussing the sale.
“I fell in love with it,” he said of the cinema. “It’s all I know... it gets emotional.”
Mark Development said in a joint statement with the Bramante family that the cinema can continue to lease space and operate at the current site while the family considers different options for the business. No purchase price was disclosed or publicly available Monday.
Mark does not have development plans for the site at this time and has committed that if the Bramante family finds a new operator who can sustainably operate the theater in its current location, it will stay there, according to the statement.
The Bramante family plans to run the cinema for the next 18 months to two years while it explores opportunities to transition leadership and operation of the cinema to another entity, according to the statement.
One option being considered is the formation of a nonprofit that would invest in the theater’s facilities, support community arts and education initiatives, and maintain a focus on independent films, according to the statement.
Robert Korff, Mark Development’s chief executive, said in the statement: “I’m pleased that we have been able to come to an agreement that creates the opportunity for the Bramante family to both realize the benefits of its long-ago investment in this property and look for options that help the cinema business evolve for the future.”
The theater building is located on about a third of an acre at 1296 Washington St. and was assessed for about $2.8 million in 2022, according to the city.
In the 1970s, Bramante was working as a real estate broker in Boston and was interested in a business that included the property as well, he said.
Over the years, the family expanded the theater’s three screens to six and focused on an eclectic mix of independent films, which helped differentiate the theater from larger multiplexes.
For most people in the theater business, he said, “once they’re in it, they almost never get out.”
Early in the pandemic, when public health measures clamped down on large indoor gatherings, movie theaters like the West Newton Cinema were hard-hit — and the Bramantes were on the brink of closing.
But Bramante’s daughter, Bridget Bali, made a public plea for community help. Within days, the cinema raised thousands of dollars to keep the business going.
The experience was eye-opening for Bramante, he said at the time.
“I want them to know how much I appreciate all the support and everything that they’ve provided to keep the theater going,” Bramante said Monday.
Bramante said it was an important part of the agreement with Mark that the cinema have the opportunity to continue in its present location.
“I think they share the same feelings of just how much this theater, and everything about it, means to the community, and to Newton,” Bramante said. “We’re all looking forward to making this happen.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.