The owners of the Towne Cinema, who had reopened the theater for a few days, have decided to close it down again until new movies can be released.
“The decision was made by John and Barb Bendall to close the doors back up because of the simple fact that we can’t support ourselves on older movies alone,” theater manager Matt Sampon said. “We played some really great movies, but we also know that most people have them already in their personal collection, or have them readily available on various streaming platforms.”
Sampon said news broke last week that Warner Brothers’ “Tenet,” and Disney’s “Mulan” were once again going to be postponed. This was not good news for any theater.
“At this point, there are no dates that are being considered for either movie to be released,” Sampon said. “The reason we opened in early July was to get everything up and running, and just play a couple of weeks of older movies to get us to ‘Tenet’ and ‘Mulan.’ Then, after we opened, they changed the dates from July to August, which we thought we would be able to survive through, but then, when the next round of postponements came out, we knew the only thing we could do was to close our theater doors and focus on the Pop-Up Popcorn sales.”
According to an Associated Press report, four months of near-zero revenue has brought the $50 billion worldwide annual movie business to its knees. While the beleaguered restaurant industry still has takeout and airlines continue to operate with masked flyers, the vast majority of U.S. movie theaters haven’t punched a single ticket since March.
Despite the virus surge in much of the U.S., exhibitors believe they can operate relatively safely by adhering to health officials, decreasing theater capacity and cleaning in between showings. After initially flip-flopping, AMC, with a theater facility in Johnson Creek, will require patrons to wear masks.
AMC, the world’s largest circuit, has delayed its reopening from the end of July to mid-to-late August, a timing that it said reflects the expected new release dates for “Tenet” and “Mulan.”
AMC recently raised $300 million in debt relief to help itself remain solvent. Throughout the industry, some 150,000 workers remain furloughed.
Sampon elaborated on how difficult it has been to run a small-town movie theater in a COVID-19 environment.
“When we opened our doors July 3, we really didn’t know what to expect, as far as customer attendance,” he said. “We were prepared to be very busy, but expecting the opposite. Sadly, the opposite was what we got, at first. We opened during Fourth of July weekend, with beautiful weather, so there was no way of coming through that on top. The second week we were open, we played “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Back to the Future,” which all did very well for us. During these Covid-19 times, we found that people were still very hesitant to come in for a movie. We still had many people coming in to purchase popcorn to go, but when asked, they said they didn’t feel it was quite the right time to come out for longer periods of time. We had all the safety measures ready to go, of course, but I totally understand people not wanting to take unnecessary chances.”
Sampon said he and his staff are disappointed that they cannot have the theater open, but are excited to have this extra opportunity to be a part of the theater while doing the Pop-Up Popcorns.
Sampon is optimistic the theater can survive another shutdown.
“We will make it thru this shut down based on the simple fact that we know that once everything is getting closer to ’normal’ and once the new movies come out, we will bounce back. Our loyal customers will be jumping at the opportunity to see what Hollywood has to offer that’s new,” he said.
He said, after listening to many different podcasts, and staying in touch with movie news through his booker, the theory among professionals is that movies are going to start putting dates on releases again in September — possibly for Labor Day weekend.
Sampon asked the public not to forget the theater’s GoFundMe Campaign that has been steadily moving up and, as of Friday afternoon, sat at $7,344 of $25,000.
“And we just recently completed the work on our brand new concession stand that was mostly all donated by Dan and Maggie Wegner, owners of White Oak Building here in town,” he said. “They did a fantastic job of putting together a beautiful new counter, menu, and flooring behind the stand for my employees to feel really good about being a part of. We also finished the brickwork that was being done on the side of our building and now are looking to tackle the roof in the very near future. All of this costs money, even the concession stand that was mostly donated. Anything our customers do helps us out.”
The theater will be doing Pop-Up Popcorn on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays. These events allow people to buy the theater’s popcorn to-go.
“We will be changing up the times to fit best into what the needs of our customers are,” Sampon said. “Curbside pickup will be available, or people can feel free to walk up to the entrance during Pop-Up times. The sales from this helps keep our staff paid and gives us the opportunity to stay connected with our customers during these uncertain times.”