On Wednesday, Daniel Fredrickson changed the marquee of the Grands Cinémas from closing to the next reopening.
After closing in March due to stay-at-home orders for coronaviruses, the Sunnyside cinema is preparing to reopen. When moviegoers return, they will see changes, such as plexiglass barriers at concession stands.
We were working hard to make sure we took all of these extra precautions, said Fredrickson, district manager at Hallett Cinemas, the parent company of Grand Cinemas.
The theater, like hundreds of others across the United States, follows safety guidelines set by the National Association of Theater Owners, a professional association based in Washington, DC. Film buffs must wear masks. Other guidelines call for social distancing, reduced capacity and the use of mobile ticketing to minimize contact between customers and employees.
So residents of the Yakima Valley will soon be able to spend a night at the movies, now that the county has entered phase 2 of the plan to reopen the states. As part of this phase, cinemas can reopen at 25% capacity.
Theaters throughout the Yakima Valley and statewide have closed as the COVID-19 pandemic struck and have remained closed for months.
Originally, counties were expected to reach phase 3 of the state reopening plan for theaters to resume operations. The Grand Meridian Cinema, a movie theater in Ellensburg, has been open since the end of June, when that county reached phase 3.
But earlier this month, Governor Jay Inslee revised the restrictions to allow theaters to open in Phase 2. Phase 3 theaters are now allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity. With Yakima County and four other counties moved from amended Phase 1 to Phase 2 last week, all theaters in the state can now reopen.
Fredrickson said it would take a few weeks for the Grand Cinema to resume operations as they need time to clean up the theater and bring back the staff.
The theater is still working on reopening details, but one thing that will happen is staggered movie viewing to allow ample time to clean up the screening rooms. At any time, half of the 12 theaters’ screens will not be used.
A film will be shown in one room and then cleaned up while the film is playing in another screening room.
Under reopening restrictions, the capacity varies from 20 to 67 people depending on the size of the rooms. The theater is studying a system based on reservations.
It’s the easiest way to make sure people are spaced out, Fredrickson said.
Yakima Theaters is also reopening its three theaters in Yakima and Union Gap: Orion Cinema, Yakima Cinema and The Majestic.
The company reopened Mickeys Pub, a restaurant and bar inside the Orion, last month. This provided income as theaters remained closed, said general manager Jeff Simmons.
Any income is a good income, he said. It is good to bring some employees back to work.
Since Mickeys Pub has been opened and the building has been used, it will be a faster turnaround time for the Orion. The goal is to open the theater by Friday, Clemmons said.
The capacity of the three projection auditoriums will be 19 to 25 people. Clemmons said the theater is hoping to introduce reserved seating, where moviegoers can choose their seat when purchasing tickets online.
Yakima Cinema and The Majestic will take a little longer to reopen since the buildings have been empty for several months. However, both theaters already have several safety features, including markings for social distancing and Plexiglas windows on concession stands. Clemmons said the goal is to reopen those two theaters around November 6.
The two theaters have 10 auditoriums. The capacity varies from 20 to 75 people, depending on the size of the auditorium.
A new building at the Yakima Cinema, which was under construction before the COVID-19 pandemic, is now delayed. Yakima Theaters hopes to resume the new development soon, but is focused on reopening and rebuilding its customer base, Simmons said.
Once back to normal, the plans will continue, he said.
Try to recover
As of last week, theaters have remained closed in just two states, New Mexico and New York. The reopening of these latter states is essential, as it includes the New York movie theater market.
Many studios are waiting for new releases until New York theaters reopen, said Phil Contrino, director of media and research for the National Association of Theater Owners. These new releases will be crucial in bringing people back to theaters.
Open theaters play older titles, he said. It is not enough to keep the lights on. They face tough decisions.
Grand Meridian Cinema in Ellensburg, in fact, alluded to the lack of new film releases when it was announced that it was shutting down again in late July. The theater resumed operations in September.
Cinemas have already suffered many losses due to extended shutdowns. Nationwide, theaters are expected to register a 62.6% year-over-year loss in 2020, according to a September report from IBISWorld, a Los Angeles-based research firm. Closures have also taken place during the summer months, when major blockbuster releases generate income for theaters.
The IBISWorld report predicts a partial recovery in revenues in 2021, but the question remains whether the theaters can survive in the meantime. Earlier this month, AMC Theaters, a major movie theater chain, said it could potentially run out of money by the end of this year or early next year.
In Yakima County, movie theaters are independent and family-owned.
Hallett Cinemas, the Hallett family business which operates the Grand Cinemas in Sunnyside, is based in Pasco. Yakima Theaters is run by the Mercy family in Yakima.
Independent theaters elsewhere in the United States have done several things to generate additional income, such as encouraging people to donate to crowdfunding campaigns, said Contrino, director of media and research for the National Association of Theater. Owners.
These theaters were able to share their challenges and ask for support.
We have seen a lot of theaters that have been successful in raising funds this way, he said.
The trade association recently launched a new campaign, #SaveYourCinema, to push the federal government to help the movie industry. As part of the campaign, the association launched a site to encourage moviegoers to write to their representatives in Congress.
Without substantial help, many theaters could be forced to close, perhaps for good, Contrino said.
The theaters’ footprint could be significantly reduced, he said.
Fredrickson, the district manager of Hallett Theaters, said they were considering private screenings. Like other theaters, things will remain difficult until new titles are released.
Overall it has been difficult for us, he said. We were trying to do our best to take care of the employees and get things done. We’ve been in Sunnyside since 1983. Be here as long as the movies are there.
Clemmons said the Yakima Theaters took a big financial hit with the extended shutdown, but he believes the company can recover, especially as new films have been released. He’s already received calls and emails asking when they’ll reopen.
They want to escape, he said. They want to get out, especially as the weather changes and options become limited again.