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Outside of the limelight Cinema in Bellingham, WA. Photo credit to Mazelle Kuplent.

After a temporary closure due to COVID-19, the Pickford Film Center has decided not to reopen the Limelight Cinema.

By Mazelle Kuplent

The Limelight Cinema, one of Bellingham’s resident cinemas, has permanently closed. Unable to bring the space up to code, the Pickford Film Centers board has decided not to reopen the Limelight at its current location.

“I don’t think it’s very likely that the Limelight will reopen where it is in the same location,” said Lindey Gerhard, marketing manager for the Pickford Film Center, which owns the Limelight Cinema.

Gerhard said the location is too small to allow for social distancing. The Limelight is a small portion of a larger building on Cornwall Avenue which is owned by Daylight Properties. The Pickford is unable to upgrade the air system to accommodate COVID-19 regulations because the building has a connected air unit. As the Pickford does not own the building that houses the Limelight, the cost of keeping the location is becoming too expensive, Gerhard said.

This might not mean the end of the Limelight, however. 

“We are definitely open to opening another theater down the road,” Gerhard said. 

There is no concrete timeline for opening another theater. Instead, the Pickford Film Center will be waiting until the flagship cinema can reopen, and then will assess the needs of the community and the financial position of the Pickford, said Susie Purves, executive director of the Pickford.

“It all depends on how strong business is when we open,” Purves said. 

Prior to closing due to COVID-19, the Limelight’s business was still doing well, Steve Meyers, the cinema’s projectionist, said. Meyers has been employed by the Limelight since it opened in 1998. It is likely that the Limelight would have been able to stay open longer had it not been for the temporary COVID-19 closure, he said.

“It always held its own every year, including recently, even after the Pickford Film Center opened,” Meyers said.

The main reason the Pickford Film Centers board is considering reopening the Limelight in a new location is due to the effect the closure will have on the business of the Pickford Film Center.

“We probably will take a hit in terms of flexibility and offerings,” Gerhard said.

When allowing cinemas to play their films, distributors require a certain number of showtimes, said Gerhard. The Limelight Cinema allowed for more special events and more showings between both locations.

The board had originally planned on closing the Limelight after opening the Pickford Film Center in 2011, but decided at the last minute to leave it open, Meyers said.

“That turned out to be pretty cool because [the Limelight] actually pulled its own weight for the last decade or so,” Meyers said. “If it had been its own theater they would have been able to keep it going.”

Despite the possibility of a new location opening, the charm of the original cinema will be missed by its patrons and employees.

“I saw so many great movies there that it’s hard to even count them all ... I’m so sad that the Limelight is closing,” Limelight Cinema patron Melissa Robbins said. “It feels like just another thing that’s changing about the Bellingham I grew up in. I will miss you dearly, ‘old Pickford!’”

While the Limelight had the same sound and vision equipment as the Pickford, its quirkiness and nostalgia made it feel like a much different space, Gerhard said.

“The Limelight just felt like a natural home for some of our weirder films. It was where we would always put our midnight premieres,” Gerhard said. “It’s a connection to the place of the Limelight that will certainly be missed.”

Throughout the history of the Limelight, there were often showings that generated lines around the block, Meyers said. The Limelight was an especially fitting home for cult movies.

“It was the sort of thing where I would notice if we showed at the Limelight we would have more of an audience than if we showed at the Pickford Film Center,” said Meyers.

Although there are no in-person screenings, the Pickford will continue to host virtual screenings of new films and have the same weird offerings, Gerhard said. The Pickford will be showing some of the films that would typically be shown at the Limelight.

Starting Oct. 9, the Pickford Film Center will be virtually hosting Doctober, a documentary festival. It will focus on themes of social justice and showcase documentaries from local filmmakers, Gerhard said.

As well as Doctober, the Pickford Film Center is currently in the early stages of putting together documentary programs for Bellingham Public Schools. The program directors are also working on making some Doctober films available to middle school classes, Purves said.

“We are going to keep pushing the virtual screening room and seeing where we can fit in, in terms of addressing community needs,” Purves said. 

The Pickford staff is interested in hearing about films that students and community members are interested in seeing, and they welcome requests for showings. 


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