St. Louis Cinemas owner Harman Moseley isn’t sure when he can reopen the Chase Park Plaza Cinemas and MX Movies and Bar. But as St. Louis prepares to loosen its restrictions on businesses during the coronavirus crisis, he's preparing a reopening plan in case theaters are allowed to open in time for summer blockbusters.
Like many theater owners, Moseley is trying to figure out how a movie theater will operate during the pandemic, when social distancing is key to preventing the virus from spreading.
“How does that work in the time of coronavirus?” Moseley asked. “It’s a tricky thing to figure out at the moment.”
Theater operators across the country are facing a difficult reality. Revenues are down as stay-at-home orders have kept moviegoers away. That’s led studios to cancel or reschedule movie releases. Financial analysts predict AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the country, might file for bankruptcy because of lost revenue.
Moseley recently closed the Moolah Theatre and Lounge after slow business during the crisis contributed to its declining fortunes. Even if city officials allow him to reopen his other cinemas soon, he doesn’t know when theatergoers will feel comfortable. But he is preparing for their return, with new policies.
“We’re going to figure out how we can maintain the six feet of social distancing in the auditorium and how that’ll work and how we can be as touchless as possible in all of our transactions with concessions and ticketing,” Moseley said.
Other theater owners are also weighing what a reopening would look like in the coming months. But the uncertainty of when theaters will reopen is a challenge for local theaters.
“I constantly think about it,” said Diana Grayson, owner of the Hi-Pointe Theatre in St. Louis. “I will have to wait to see what is required of us when that time comes.”
The Hi-Pointe last saw customers on March 16. Grayson hopes they'll return soon.
“It was certainly sad to have to make the decision to close; obviously these are unprecedented times,” Grayson said. “However, I receive supportive messages every day from our patrons that make me so happy. Once we get through all of this, I am confident that we will be around for many years to come.”
Similar conversations are happening across the river in Belleville, Illinois. The Skyview Drive-In Movie Theater plans to reopen May 8, after new guidelines from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity were shared.
Drive-in operator and owner Steve Bloomer said the theater will operate at half capacity, vehicles will be spaced about 15 feet apart, concession stands will be off limits and people interested in ordering food will be able to order and pick up food at a table. Workers will frequently sanitize portable restrooms.
Bloomer said he expects the Skyview to be a popular attraction over the summer since customers can stay in their cars.
“This is the fastest we’ve sold out our reserved spots since the first 'It' movie,” Bloomer said, referring to the 2017 film. “This is unprecedented.”
The drive-in plans to show several movies in coming weeks, Bloomer said. If studios continue to delay movie premieres, he’ll have to keep showing older films, but he said that would give families the opportunity to see older favorites.
“I think people would just want to get out of the house, see some of these movies again on the big screen, rather than watching it on their 60-inch flat screen TV at home,” Bloomer said.
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