The Rialto movie theater in Westfield closed Friday, catching everyone from members of the public to its employees to the town's mayor by surprise.
So abrupt was the closing that a message posted on the marquee Friday listed a phone number where people could call for refunds.
"Like all of you, I’m devastated to learn about the sudden closing of the Rialto Theater, which has been a treasure of our downtown for many decades," Mayor Shelley Brindle said in a Facebook post.
Brindle, who said town officials were in talks with the theater when it suddenly shut its doors, also said the nearly 100-year-old venue's closure stemmed from a dispute between the building's landlord and New Vision Cinemas, the tenant.
Both parties declined to comment because the "matter is currently being litigated," she also said.
The Rialto was one of a dwindling number of relatively small, downtown movies theaters, many of which have fallen prey to the same changes in the market that have claimed other small enterprises: competition from much larger venues along major highways.
As big box stores have decimated family owned hardware stores and other local businesses in recent decades, so too have giant multiplexes taken a toll on the cozy movie houses that used to be found in countless American towns. Brindle pointed to a new Cinemark movie complex in Watchung to illustrate the point.
Brindle also said the town will work to keep the Rialto in town in some form. A group has also formed to try and save the beloved venue.
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