By Julianne Homokay
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
It says it right on their Facebook page: Blue Jay Cinema has been “entertaining the mountain community for over 32 years!” The cinema’s owner, Lisa Polydoros, hopes that the theater will continue to entertain the mountain communities for years to come.
The cinema, housed in a building that Polydoros leases from the Rim of the World Unified School District, has a rich, interesting history. Bruce Sanborn – whose family business, SoCal Cinemas, dates back to the beginning of the movie industry – built the theater in 1988 and opened for business in 1989, according to Polydoros. Her mother, Corky Lewin, bought the cinema in 2009.
“I always thought she would retire to the beach,” said Polydoros. But when Lewin came up to Blue Jay to visit a friend, she fell in love with the mountains and decided to buy the cinema shortly thereafter.
Lewin used her considerable industry experience and her connections to ensure that Blue Jay Cinema always featured first-run films. Lewin began her career booking movies for the General Cinema Corporation. She later transferred into distribution and smashed quite a few glass ceilings as she became the only female division manager at MGM at the time. After she moved to Sony Pictures, she worked in Exhibitor Relations, funneling movies to non-theatrical venues such as airlines and cruise ships. She also worked with the military.
“That’s when she really got excited,” said Polydoros. Lewin traveled the world in fatigues, bringing movies to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, before retiring here in the mountains.
Polydoros herself is a walking legacy. She began her work life as a movie theater employee, and eventually landed in Exhibition and Distribution. She took over Blue Jay Cinema upon her mother’s death in 2014 and refers to it as her “labor of love,” often foregoing her own salary to ensure the theater stays afloat.
Blue Jay Cinema has faced threats to its survival as many theaters have with the advent of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and the pandemic provided additional, often staggering, challenges. How did Blue Jay Cinema weather them?
“The school district was very generous,” Polydoros noted, as it relieved the cinema of its rent obligations during the shutdown. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians also approached her, as they had a fund to give $20,000 grants to 50 different businesses in San Bernardino County to weather the pandemic. Disaster loans were available from the Small Business Administration, and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) provided “Shuttered Venues Operators Grants” to help many movie theaters stay alive, including Blue Jay Cinema.
Polydoros is constantly hearing from patrons how much they love the theater, and how glad they are that it has been able to survive the COVID shutdown. Although she knows the community support is there in spirit, she does wonder if it will be enough to keep the lights on and the movies running. There isn’t any labor she won’t do in service of this love: During managerial transitions, she has had to pay the bills, do the books, buy the films, hire the employees and program the projector. And “I love jumping behind the counter and getting popcorn and drinks,” she laughs.
But Polydoros lives in Woodland Hills, a two-hour drive in the best of circumstances, so she’s hoping someone local will buy the business, someone who could be even more hands-on than she can. Turning the business into a nonprofit might also be a solution, one that would truly put Blue Jay Cinema into the hands of the community.
Polydoros says that moviegoers still reference the loss of the skating rink at the former Ice Castle International Training Center. “They tell me, ‘You better not go away, too!’”
Blue Jay Cinema is located at 27315 North Bay Road in Blue Jay. For movies, showtimes and to purchase tickets online, visit www.bluejaycinema.com, or download the mobile app from the Google Play store.