Passed over by national theater chains, Greenville’s Nelken builds his own

For three or four years, Greenville’s Benjy Nelken was on a committee that tried to interest one of the national movie chains in building a modern, up-to-date theater in Greenville.

Nelken said he has always been a movie buff, and wanted to see movies “the way they are meant to be seen,” and improve entertainment offerings in the area. His son, Hank, is a screenwriter who co-wrote “Saving Silverman” and has other projects on the way.

Frustrated at how the national chains would not put Greenville on their radar, about a year ago Nelken turned to his banker, who was also on the committee, and said “if you’ll lend me the money, I’ll build you a theater.”

Much to his amazement, “he took me up on it,” Nelken laughed.

On June 9, about 1,000 attended the Nelco Theater’s grand opening event. Though the benefit screening was by invitation, Nelken admits “we didn’t turn anyone away.”

On opening weekend, the crowds kept coming, though he didn’t yet have the new “Star Wars” movie and the older theater in town did.

The show went on even though Nelken admitted there was about three more weeks of touch-up work around the building, including much of the neon for the marquee.

The complex, located on Highway 1 across from the Greenville Country Club – home of the annual Delta Jewish Open – has six screens and can seat up to 1200. Nelken said with the size of the building, it could have easily been an 8-screen complex, but he wanted each screen to be as large as possible.

Each theater has Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound, and digital projectors. Stadium seating was also a priority, and the Nelco’s has 18-inch risers. The concession stand has a wide variety of offerings, including the area’s first Dippin’ Dots.

The complex also includes a party room for everything from birthday parties to business meetings. There is also a video arcade. Nelken noted that to find a similar facility, one would have to travel to Memphis or Jackson.

The theater is far back from the highway on 11 acres of land. Nelken, owner of Nelken Realty, said he hopes to use the traffic generated by the theater to attract other businesses, such as restaurants, to the site.

He isn’t ready to speculate on his next venture, adding that this has kept him busy for over a year.