Following the introduction of new public health measures last Tuesday, many businesses in Alberta were required to reduce their capacity to one quarter of their fire code by Nov. 27. This move includes shopping centres, grocery stores, liquor and cannabis retailers, and theatres.
Leonard Binning, president and owner of The Movie Mill, says the theatre thought it was going to have to close entirely.
“There was certainly a collective sigh of relief because we feared that we probably be closed down,” Binning said. “While definitely not ideal, it still allows us to operate.”
Prior to the new restrictions coming into place, Binning said the theatre had already set a maximum capacity of 35 per cent to accommodate social distancing. However, now sitting at 50 per cent revenue compared to last year, the locally-owned theatre doesn’t typically see even that amount of visitors.
“My small theatres, at 25 per cent, can currently hold 28 or 29 people socially distanced, and my larger theatres hold almost double that.”
Binning says a variety of features make the Movie Mill a safe outing, including its air filtration system and leather seat material for ease of cleaning, as well as the nature of movie-watching.
It’s had to increase staffing to make sure all COVID-19 protocols are maintained.
“Everybody’s facing the same direction, nobody’s talking — at least they’re not supposed to be — they’re not getting up and moving around,” he said. “So once you’re in your seat with a mask on, unless you’re eating popcorn, the screen’s the only one doing the talking.”
While the actual making of movies has slowed, there are some new releases coming out. Binning says part of the reason business has been so slow is due to the lack of “blockbusters.”
“Something people don’t realize: there’s new movies coming out every week, they’re just not the Wonder Womans and the James Bonds so they’re not making front headlines.”
While it’s been a tough few months, Binning says the show of community support has been heartwarming.
“As much as there may only be a handful of people coming to the movies, we have probably just as many people walking in, purchasing popcorn and going home to consume it. We certainly do appreciate that.”
“We’re just hoping to wait it out,” he said. “We’ve done it for eight months, so nothing saying we can’t do it for a few more months until, you know, those big titles start to come and when people feel a little more comfortable.”
Lethbridge also has a Cineplex theatre, which is also operating with enhanced COVID-19 protocols.
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