For more than a century, movie theaters have played a central role in American culture — not only as places to take in entertainment on a big screen, but to stay cool, eat, and find community.
But in Worcester, New England’s second largest city, there’s nowhere to do that.
In fact, it’s the largest city in America with no movie theater.
“It’s unfortunate, and it feels like a missing piece of the cultural mix here,” said Andy Grigorov, who has lived in the city for decades. “There’s lots of other stuff going on here with theater, with music, but I think you really need a cinema.”
Grigorov, who grew up in Ithaca, New York, said his movies goes way back. In 1978, he wandered into “The Swarm” — a movie about killer bees — and was transfixed.
“Since then, I’ve just been drawn to the experience of going to the movies, the communal aspect of it, just getting lost in the images and sound in the dark, with a group of other people,” he said.
He moved to Worcester in college. For years, he was able to see movies without leaving the city's limits.
But in the pandemic, movie theaters struggled to stay afloat. The last surviving place to see movies in Worcester, Showcase Cinemas North, shut down for good in 2021 and was demolished last year. Now the nearest theaters are in Millbury and West Boylston, both just over a 10-minute drive or a 30- to 45-minute bus ride from downtown Worcester.
“That really solidified in my mind that we have to do something in Worcester, the sooner the better,” he said.
So he founded Cinema Worcester, which shows old movies and new independent films in whatever space they can: art galleries, a nonprofit meeting room across from a park, and breweries like Redemption Rock. They’re pop-ups, without many bells and whistles outside of the main attraction.
“One thing that I feel like I’ve really missed out on in my pop-up version of Cinema Worcester has been [that I] can’t do concessions,” he said. “I do have a popcorn machine that I’ve used, but you really do have to set up a proper concession stand to make things meet as a cinema operator.”
It’s tough work, he said. He’s gotten help from current and former cinema operators around the region, as well as the city’s economic development office. But Grigorov said he is confident there’s an appetite for what he’s trying to do.
And people are showing up to see movies. They’ve shown “Past Lives” from director Celine Song, about two childhood friends who grow apart and back together over 24 years; and “Aftersun,” a Charlotte Wells movie about a father-daughter relationship.
But Grigorov said his current favorite movie is an older one: “Mulholland Drive,” the horror-noir dreamscape about Hollywood and amnesia. A real movie-lovers movie.
“You can’t go wrong with David Lynch,” he said.
In fact, it was the first movie he showed through Cinema Worcester.
The organization is looking for a permanent home, he said.
“I’m looking very seriously at a spot downtown,” Grigorov said.
Until then, Worcester still doesn’t have a theater. Nowhere for the lights to go down and magic to unfold in front of your eyes.
But Grigorov is hopeful, he said. And he’s already got plans in the works for when he opens the doors to a real cinema.
Come opening night, he said, he already knows what he wants to show.
“I don’t know, could I say 'Mulholland Drive' again?” he said. “That would be fitting.”