SHERIDAN — While movie theaters across the country closed this spring as COVID-19 cases increased, many have since opened their doors with the hope of new movies on the horizon.
Studios have started announcing theater release dates for new films — including “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Tenet” — boosting plans for business owners like Bill Campbell, who runs Centennial Theatre in downtown Sheridan.
The local theater closed St. Patrick’s Day and remained closed until June 5, though Campbell did start selling movie theater popcorn again May 4.
While he was able to keep staff on payroll with funds from the Paycheck Protection Program doing tasks like deep cleaning and implementing new protocols, Campbell said he’s excited for new films.
The theater has offered showings of older movies over the last few months, but they didn’t have the draw most new movies do.
“At first just reopening generated much excitement, but as the saying goes, “Content is King,” and since Hollywood has not been releasing their product we saw a slowing of attendance,” Campbell said. “We are down close to 90% in attendance compared to last year.”
Now, the downtown business owner is looking ahead to releases sure to draw viewers through the doors.
“I am so very much excited for new product,” Campbell said. “New movies are what our business is based on, and ‘Tenet’ is what I currently look most forward to.
“Mainly to show Hollywood that people will come to the movies if what they want to see is available,” Campbell continued, adding that “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Death on the Nile” also have his personal interest.
And while movie-goers will have a different experience than pre-COVID, Campbell said most have been very accommodating to the new policies.
Campbell said he and his staff have committed to adopting the Cinema Safe guidelines released recently.
The National Association of Theatre Owners announced Aug. 21 the voluntary, nationwide set of health and safety protocols based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and Occupational and Health Administration guidelines.
“In this new pandemic world, moviegoers need to know that there is a consistent, science and experience-based set of health and safety protocols in place no matter what theater they visit,” said John Fithian, president and CEO of NATO, in a press release. “This unprecedented industry-wide effort is a promise designed to meet that need.”
The protocols implemented include:
• All employees must wear a face covering or mask. With limited exceptions, patrons must also wear a face covering while in the auditorium and common areas of the theater. Exceptions include children younger than 2 and individuals with medical/physical conditions that inhibit their ability to safely wear face coverings. In addition, face coverings may be removed to consume food and beverages.
• Theaters will maintain appropriate social distancing between patrons. Campbell said the lobby will hold fewer patrons and groups will be asked to maintain 6 feet of distance in the auditoriums. All theaters will also have reserved seating to allow for this.
• Campbell said the theater has also increased the stagger between movie start times to allow for enhanced sterilization of auditoriums between shows and to help spread out crowds entering and exiting the facility.
• Concessions will also look different. Campbell said concession orders will be taken at the same time that tickets are being picked up from online sales or purchased at the box office. This will help reduce the number of patron and staff interactions, and concession orders will be prepared for pickup by staff handling just one item (popcorn or soda) to prevent cross contamination.
• Employees will also practiced enhanced sanitization, with often-touched surfaces cleaned more often and hand sanitizer available throughout the building. In addition, Campbell noted changes to the theater’s heating and cooling systems to allow for a greater exchange of outside air and more frequent air filtration. This is a change customers won’t see, but is part of the guidelines outlined in Cinema Safe.