Nick Nicolaou has been working in movie theaters since he was 14 years old, as an usher, a doorman and a ticket seller.
Since the 1970s, he's owned smaller theaters in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, including Alpine Cinemas, which will be 100 years old this June.
“It is an American tradition, going to the movies. It is what changed my life, and I am always willing to bet everything that I have," Nicolaou said.
Because of the pandemic, March 15 was the last day Alpine Cinemas showed a movie on a big screen. Since then, Nicolaou and his team have been renovating the theater to return it back to its 1920s glory and update the ventilation system.
"We put individual heating and air condition unit in each room so the air does not go from one theater to another," he said.
He expects the work to be finished in February, but he still has no idea when the state will allow him to reopen.
And now, the giant entertainment company Warner Bros. has announced that all of its movies next year will be available on the new HBO Max streaming service, the same day they debut in theaters.
Nicolaou said it's another challenge for small movie houses, but that only theaters can create what he calls "movie magic."
"Yes it will take people away, it will hurt the movie theaters. But what is important for us, that we live in New York, is these memories that you came here and your grandfather was holding your little hand. This is what we are all about," he said.
Nicolaou gave us a tour of one theater that is being designed specifically for horror films.
"You got all kinds of people sitting all over in the theater and everybody reacts a different way. You even laugh because that lady is laughing at the wrong joke, people get scared. You know it is an experience you cannot duplicate," he said. "I am afraid it will be diminished slowly. But I am going to fight."
Nicolaou said while prosperous theater chains are struggling during the pandemic, operators of small privately owned theaters have it even worse.
"We are into loans and loans and loans," he said. "But there is no way I am giving up. I came to New York with nothing in my pocke,t and I am willing to risk everything I have and have made in this city back to what I believe is a great thing, going to the movies with friends and family."
A movie theater owner hoping for a happy ending.