National movie theater chains shuttered for months amid the coronavirus pandemic are circling July on the calendar to begin showing films again.
However, the current plan for the Springfield movie scene is still largely in the dark.
Moxie Cinema is the only local theater to announce its intention to reopen next month. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, AMC Springfield 11 and Regal College Station Stadium 14 closed in mid-March, and officials with the theaters have yet to officially announce plans for the Queen City venues.
“We’re really taking it day by day. I’ve had about 15 different reopening plans and dates so far,” said Moxie Cinema Executive Director Mike Stevens. “We’re really hoping by mid-July we will be open.”
Stevens said that decision would be largely dependent on Springfield-Greene County Health Department guidance. In recent weeks, he’s been familiarizing himself with employer liability issues and protocols for bringing people back to the theater.
“We know staff will be masked,” he said, adding the concession area will have plexiglass installed, along with touchless water fountains and hand sanitizer stations, and enhanced cleaning.
Seating capacity will be capped at 25%, or roughly 30 patrons, for at least the first month, Stevens said.
“We want to have plenty of distance between seats,” he said.
The Moxie closed March 16, just prior to the city’s stay-at-home order. The independent movie house laid off its seven employees, and Stevens now is the lone full-time employee. Two others are still helping on a part-time basis.
Stevens estimates the Moxie has lost roughly $80,000 in revenue through the end of May. He hasn’t tabulated June losses yet.
However, the theater has received help since its closure. That includes $27,500 from the Paycheck Protection Program, a $10,000 U.S. Small Business Administration emergency loan and a $5,000 relief and recovery grant through the Springfield Regional Arts Council.
Additionally, the Moxie reached a fundraising goal of $15,000 in May. Stevens said the fundraiser had a great response from many of its roughly 500 members, along with longtime Moxie customers.
“I was very excited,” he said. “This money is to help with operations as we reopen and offset what I imagine will be a slow start.
“The challenge will be once we reemerge, how long will it take to get people comfortable coming into the theater.”
While the Moxie firms up its reopening plan, the world’s two largest theater chains are doing the same.
AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas both announced this month intentions to reopen nationally in July. However, no details were shared of how many theaters are on the list. Messages left for AMC and Regal spokespeople were not returned by press time.
Austin, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has yet to announce a reopening plan or if the Springfield theater will be a part of it. Officials with the boutique theater chain didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time, and the Alamo Springfield Facebook page hasn’t had a post since March 16.
Even as indoor theaters prepare to reopen, Sunset Drive-In Theatre Inc. owner Larry Marks hopes more people head outdoors for their moviegoing experience.
The Aurora theater resumed operations in early May after being shuttered for several weeks due to the pandemic. With no new films to show currently, the theater has dug into movie studio vaults to play “The Breakfast Club,” “The Goonies,” “Twister” and other older flicks.
Social distancing, increased sanitation efforts and occupancy limits have been in place at the theater, Marks said.
“We started off with half capacity. We had everybody park one car between posts,” he said, noting that limited the drive-in to 150 cars.
The theater would normally be full in June, with the summer movie season in full swing, Marks said. Instead, he estimates revenue over the past couple of months is down by over 60%, declining to disclose figures.
As he waits for new movies to be released, Marks is experimenting with different events at the theater. July’s schedule includes a family-oriented comedy night and a concert by Christian recording artist TobyMac.
Marks said he recently got word from the Lawrence County Health Department the venue can return to full capacity, as long as social distancing guidelines continue to be followed.
Marks said the new normal of social distancing could play in the favor of a drive-in over an indoor multiplex.
“I’m hoping in the process of this people will go to a drive-in and realize it’s totally different than going to an indoor theater,” he said.
John Moore, co-owner of Cakes-n-Creams 50’s Diner, hopes a drive-in will draw extra customers to his Branson restaurant.
He just invested roughly $100,000 to add a drive-in theater outside the Highway 76 eatery he and wife, Cristi, have owned since 1981. Visitors can watch classic movies and trailers in the parking lot for free, with diner staff bringing out food and drink orders.
“If we’re going to do curbside service, we might as well do carhops,” he said. “I have 50 parking spots back here for people, but I don’t want it to get too crazy and have 300 people show up in 300 cars. It would be a little tough to handle that kind of a crowd.”
After a practice session earlier this month, Moore said the drive-in is set for nightly operation.
“I’m just kind of easing into it and seeing how it goes over, then we can go from there to improve things,” he said.
At the Moxie, Stevens said he’s anxious to see customers again after months of no movies on the venue’s two silver screens.
“Our business is gathering people together in a darkened theater and putting something wonderful on screen,” he said. “It’s kind of surreal coming in every morning to an empty theater. That’s probably been the toughest part.”
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