It’s lights, camera, action — again — for Sidney’s Star Cinema in its temporary location following the COVID-19 related lockdown.
General manager Lindsey Pomper said the theatre reopened July 3 after receiving provincial approval following the implementation of safety protocols. This is the second restart for the business within about seven months.
In early December 2019, the iconic business closed its historic location at the corner of Third Street and Sidney Avenue, relocating to its current but temporary location at 9824 Fifth St. while crews build its new home as part of the Cameo development now under construction at the old location.
But if the first closure and subsequent restart came by design, the second came out of nowhere with its own unique set of circumstances and imperatives.
“We miss being open, and also as a business, we need to be open and try to make the best of things,” she said.
To help them along the way, the theatre has launched a survey through its website to help determine the next steps, said Pomper. “We have done everything we can to make people feel safe, and the customers who have come this week have said that they feel good about being here.”
Additional safety protocols include stepped-up cleaning and reducing capacity by 50 per cent. This last measure means that the theatre can hold a maximum of 36 patrons. That figure raises the obvious question: how economically viable is it to operate a theatre at 50 per cent?
“It’s very challenging,” said Pomper. “It’s an experiment for all movie theatres right now,” she said. “Theatres in Victoria haven’t been seeing great numbers either and I think people are kind of easing back into it and seeing how things go. Only time will tell.”
Another challenge, she added, concerns the availability, or lack thereof, of major movies that have historically drawn crowds. “Film distributors aren’t releasing their major films yet. Those keep getting delayed. They want [theatres in] L.A. and New York to reopen before they open up their films, so that affects all movie theatres around the world, essentially. So it is looking like it won’t be until mid-August that we start seeing some of those major releases.”
With new releases not yet available, the theatre has decided on a mix of previous blockbusters at a discounted price and more recent movies that it could not show while being closed.
“And there is always popcorn. People still love the popcorn. A lot of movie theatres are doing this and I think it’s fun to see these on the big screen again. A lot of these films hold up.”
Whether movie theatres can overcome public health concerns and other developments such as the growing dominance of various streaming services amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic is another question.
Pomper is confident, while acknowledging the subject. “I think that is the question everybody is asking,” she said. “A lot of film companies and movie theatre owners are asking those questions. But ultimately, I think they will persist. You can’t really replicate that shared experience of going to a movie and seeing a film all together and the whole crowd laughing together or being shocked together. People will always want that. And also, it is one of the most affordable entertainment options for people to get out of their house, especially for us. We are always trying to make sure that our prices are affordable.”
Movie theatres will also continue to be a source of revenue for film studios themselves, she added. “Maybe I am too hopeful, but I really think that people still want to see movies. When television got introduced, they thought it was going to end movie theatres, but it didn’t.”
The shutdown caused by COVID-19 did leave marks. “It was a big impact,” said Pomper. “We had to shut down completely. We couldn’t partially open. We had to do what a lot of businesses had to do. Unfortunately, we had to lay off staff for that time, but we have rehired everyone and there were still things that we had to maintain on the business end of things.
“But it was scary for sure,” she said. “You don’t know how long this was going to last for. Our business depends on a crowd of people being in close together, which is not the best with what is happening right now.”
The last few months have also included some bright spots. Construction of the new theatre remains on pace, she said. “We are on schedule for that because construction was deemed an essential service, so they were able to keep going with plans during the time that we were closed over the past three months. It’s impressive how much they have already gotten done.”
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