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“It’s leaving”: small movie theaters struggle to survive

On a rainy day last week, 72 movie fans visited Park Plaza Cinema in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and saw Liam Neeson at Honest Thief. This was the largest one-day attendee seen by an independently owned five-screen theater since reopening in August after a five-month closure. The congratulations were short-lived. The next day, only 22 people came.

Park Plaza was destroyed by a pandemic, like big and small movie theaters across the country. After a long closure, it established a social distance protocol and installed a new air filtration system. We tried to sell curbside popcorn. But that effort wasn’t enough to offset the larger trend towards cinemas. That said, many people still don’t seem to tend to go back to many theaters, and Hollywood has postponed most major releases next year due to the lack of a speaking audience.

“We are an industry that is part of the American structure, and it’s gone,” said Lucy Mann, who owns and runs the theater with her husband, Larry. “If we don’t get help right away, it will change forever.”

The pandemic put national theater chains like AMC on the brink of bankruptcy. It was as generous as a facility like Manns’, one of the 602 independently owned theaters in the United States. Although it accounts for only 12% of all theaters in the country, it often serves movies in smaller communities that can be ignored by major chains. After closing the door in March, Park Plaza received a $ 47,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan in April to cover labor and overhead costs. Also, many private events supported Man during the summer.

Still, sales fell sharply, down 88% from last year. When Manns began offering special socially distant events in June, he thought he had an idea to supplement some of them. People can rent a theater for $ 100, bring their own DVDs, or invite a few friends.

Chris Lafner, who visited the theater once a week before the pandemic, hosted two such events. Meanwhile, she invited 20 friends to see the “Bride Maid.”

“It was great,” Lafner said, especially “in an era when no one could go and do anything. At Park Plaza, seats can be socially alienated, so all my friends have problems with it. I didn’t. “

However, someone complained, and in July the state Department of Commerce contacted him through the sheriff’s department, reminding Mann that manipulating the movie wasn’t required.

As a result, private gatherings have ceased and the theater’s financial situation has become increasingly volatile. Last week, Mann told Mann that he had only $ 1,000 left in the bank.

“It’s in crisis,” she said.

Mann, 61, is a trained architect and Mann, 67, is a homebuilder. They bought the theater in 2010. This is a resumption after Mr. Mann’s decades of homebuilding career has been exhausted due to the recession. (Mr. Mann is still remodeling his home.) Neither was an avid movie fan, but they made a leap when the previous owner told them that the business would “do it themselves.” Mr. Mann remembered. It’s not.

The couple have devoted a great deal of time, money and energy to the renovation of a dilapidated theater. In 2012, they spent $ 400,000 to replace old projectors with digital projectors and upgrade their sound. In 2016, they discarded all 650 theater chairs and chose 250 oversized reclining leather seats, which reduced capacity but contributed to increased sales through high-end experience.

Mann, who had no formal kitchen experience, expanded his food and drink offerings (Mann’s flatbread is very popular), He introduced a menu of sophisticated wines and craft beers, hired pets Antoinette and Abilene, and two hairless Chinese Crested Dogs to take patrons to their seats and perform tricks on command. (Customers can also bring their own dog for less than £ 20.) Revenues have increased by about 15% each year. The business was a hit.

“Lucy was really cute at Park Plaza,” said Linda Peterson, a financial analyst who lives on the island and often wears pajamas to attend late shows with her daughter. “And she has wine. My goodness, where else can I drink wine while watching a movie?”

Today, few people stop by for adult drinks and flicks. After the private event was first stopped, Rafner began raising the theater online, bringing nearly $ 15,000. And Peterson petitioned South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster to reopen Park Plaza, where boutique theaters have limited capacity and wear masks while all patrons are inside. Claimed to be. It won nearly 2,000 signatures and landed a meeting with the governor in Mann. He allowed the theater to open that day.

“I was stunned to see the local support,” Mann said.

Mans reopened on August 21 in anticipation of the release of “Tenet” from Warner Bros. However, Christopher Nolan’s film produced only $ 3,659 after playing in the theater for six weeks. Other new releases aren’t doing much business either. Since Workers’ Day, domestic box office weekends have fallen 90% year-on-year, according to box office analyst firm Franchise Entertainment Research.

Now the studio is shrinking again, shifting most of the major releases to 2021. Wonder Woman 1984, due out on Christmas Day, is the only big-budget movie on the 2020 calendar, but Mann isn’t. Optimistically, it will open this year.

“If all the other blockbusters were pushed in April and July, the blockbuster chain would be closed and there wouldn’t be a single blockbuster in December when New York City and California wouldn’t open,” Mann said. Mr. says. “These two dominate the entire world of our industry.” (California remains closed in the movie capital, Los Angeles, but allows theaters to open in San Francisco and San Diego counties. I will.)

Recently, Mann has resumed a private event and is charging $ 250 for theater rentals. On Saturday night, the local Italian American Club hosted a private party, with 10 people stopping by for the screening of “On a Moonlit Night.” She tried to air a local high school football game on Saturday afternoon, but no one showed it. She was similarly unlucky when she booked Pixar’s “Coco” last weekend to attract her family, but her seats remained empty.

Mann spends his days on the phone trying to revive a disaster loan from the Small and Medium Business Administration, which continues to be rejected. And he is applying for a new grant from the state. Last week, patrons wrote a $ 15,000 check in the theater, and the theater could continue to operate for a few more weeks while Mann was trying to attract more customers. If Aid Doesn’t Realize — If the theater reopens, either in the form of federal funding, which is unlikely given the political situation in Washington, or in a decision from the Hollywood Studios to bring some big movies back to 2020. In New York and Los Angeles, they said they would only consider in — Mans believes it must be closed by the end of the year.

“For many, Park Plaza is part of the vacation experience here,” Lafner said, “it would be a catastrophic loss if the theater had to be closed forever.” I added.

Mann is not afraid to reinvent himself. She did so in 2010 and is now familiar with the whims of the film exhibition business. Book blockbusters for summer and Thanksgiving suburban customers and pay attention to sophisticated art house fares during the off-season. When the locals rule.

“I didn’t know anything about movie lovers,” she said. “But they are really cool people.”

But now she spends the night asking unanswered questions, from how to persuade non-movie fans not to come to the theater, to what would happen to the structure of culture if the theater disappeared. There is.

“If people don’t have entertainment, how is everyone in the economy supposed to survive when businesses are closed to the left and right?” Mann said. “My premonition that the exhibition business was in the midst of a revolution was correct. I didn’t know there would be an event like this.”

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