ShowBiz Cinema in Baytown reopened Monday under the shadow of a COVID-19 pandemic and amid optimism for a reopening of the country’s economy.
It wasn’t a blow out by any means, with less than two-dozen moviegoers attending the first few hours of film runs, but that meant the reopen was moving as planned.
The theater reopened under the expected social distancing rules and cleaning procedures to help further the patrons need to watch a good movie and feel safe while doing so.
“We used to always go to movies on Mondays and then the pandemic hit,” Erick Bryan of Port Neches said, as he, his wife and daughter got ready to see Knives Out. “We found out you were all open, so we were like ‘let’s go.’ We feel safe. We work for FedEx and we see over a hundred people are day and no one in our terminal has come down with this at all. So, it’s not that bad in our area at all.”
Bryan said Beaumont movie theaters are closed and so they would consider returning. He also noted if they didn’t feel secure in ShowBiz’s preparedness, they would reconsider that decision.
“Yeah, maybe not then,” Bryan said. “We are hoping the one by us eventually opens up.”
First showing at the theater are a number of recent movies and older, family-friendly films. Newer films may not be seen for the near future with many releases having been pushed back.
Work staff wore masks and gloves and had their temperatures taken before each shift. Plexiglass partitions were installed at cashier stations, hand sanitizer stations were made available in the building, social distancing protocols were encouraged, and tickets were sold to 25 percent of an individual auditorium’s capacity.
Once someone bought a ticket, they were placed in a row that would be surrounded by an empty one in front and behind them. They also would have three places empty to the left and right of them. No more than five persons could buy a group of tickets.
Movie times were spaced further apart to allow more cleanup allotment between showings and closing times were staggered to avoid mass bodies leaving the theater at once, according to Jeremy Devine, Vice President of Marketing and Content for ShowBiz Cinema. He said it will be about 45 minutes from closing of a film to a new showing.
ShowBiz’s bar will be available to order a drink, but one must vacate the area after purchase. The arcade is not open and that will be awhile.
An attendant will monitor the restrooms and try to keep social distancing protocols in place.
About 20 patrons showed up for the first slate of showings that included films like Birds of Prey, Knives Out, Goonies, Grease, Harry Potter and a remastered, digital version of The Wizard of Oz.
Devine said the slate of films is to help the work staff slowly acclimate to all the protocols in place with manageable crowds until business picks up with a pandemic having a significant impact, according to Devine.
Advertising about the re-open was minimal to allow for a slow burn of business growth as everyone gets acclimated to the new normal.
“It is labor intensive, but it employs people,” Devine said. “It’s showing how to do this with really high standards.”
He added bowling will be available beginning Friday with every other lane being used and seating arranged as to not be too close to other participants. Balls will be sterilized before and after usage.
Patti Calma and her husband Kirk were hoping to take in Knives Out in a show of solidarity with assistant manager Derek O’Hare.
“He told me how people were laid off here and when I went to buy the tickets online, I saw we were the only people to buy one so I felt pretty safe,” Patti Calma said. “He has grandparents in their late 70s who go to the movies three times a week and he had them in mind.
“There’s not a lot of things coming out right now. All things being released were postponed so they didn’t have a choice (to release older films), but they picked some good stuff.”
The Calma’s thought the soft reopen was smart strategically to prepare for the eventual onrush of bigger crowds.