A handful of movie theaters in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, are set to reopen in the coming days, providing an early test case for coronavirus protection measures.
EVO Entertainment plans to open two theaters on Monday using “airport security-style check-in,” says CEO Mitchell Roberts. Guests will enter a cordoned area near the front door, where they will be asked if they are anyone in their household have had flu symptoms in the last 14 days. They will also be subjected to an infrared temperature screening, with anyone over 100.4 degrees turned away.
“I feel like it’s really important for our guests to come in and see what we’re doing to protect them,” Roberts says. “The focus is on earning that customer confidence back.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allowed theaters to reopen beginning on Friday at 25% capacity, as several states around the country have loosened their coronavirus restrictions. Despite that, the vast majority of theaters in Texas and elsewhere — including all the major chains — have remained closed, citing the lack of new movies to show and the challenges of providing a safe experience.
In San Antonio, however, Santikos Entertainment will open three of its nine locations on Saturday, making it one of the first operators in the nation to open its doors. The chain will screen Universal’s “Trolls World Tour,” which has been playing at drive-ins and on VOD for $19.99, as well as several other films, like “The Hunt,” that came out just before the shutdown.
“We’re operating more for psychological value than net income,” says CEO Tim Handren. “That’s what theaters are for — an escape. We’re going to provide that escape.”
Handren says the employees at the three locations — the Palladium, Casa Blanca, and Cibolo theaters — are eager to get back to work.
“It’s gonna be incredibly, incredibly safe,” he says. “We’re going to be a finely tuned machine with all the protocols that are required.”
Both EVO and Santikos are charging discounted prices — $5 a ticket ($3 for children at EVO.) They have each reconfigured their food service to reduce touch-points, and eliminated cash transactions. Staff will wear masks and gloves. The theaters will have spaced seating, with every other row empty and groups seated at least six feet apart.
At EVO, customers will be required to wear masks, while at the Santikos theaters, it’s only encouraged.
“If we see bad actors, we’re going to remind them what social distancing means,” Handren says. “If we feel like it’s a problem, we’ll require it.”
EVO is opening its theaters in Schertz, outside San Antonio, and Kyle, outside Austin, on Monday. The plan is screen classics like “The Goonies,” alongside more recent releases such as “Sonic the Hedgehog” and local favorites like “American Sniper.”
“We’re looking at positive, feel-good stuff,” Roberts says. “Everyone has the same programming mantra — classic films, good, popular stuff.”
Santikos — which serves a largely Latino audience — is also running “Selena,” the 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez. Handren said that so far, about 20% of the available seating for the upcoming shows has been sold online.
“We get to measure how tepid is demand going to be,” he says. “I think we’re seeing it’s going be OK.”