Theatres reopen as province reverses COVID-19 restriction on consuming concessions in auditoriums

·4 min read

Estevan– Less than 48 hours after public health orders decreed that movie theatres could still sell food and drink, but it couldn’t be consumed in the auditoriums, theatre operators received word from the provincial Business Response Team that particular order had been reversed.

Patrons will be able to purchase food and beverages and take them to their seats. Physical distancing between household groups must be maintained and masks must be worn unless eating or drinking. The limit of 30 patrons per theatre remains in effect. This is a reduction from the previous restriction of 30 per cent capacity.

On Nov. 25, the province had announced that concession sales could take place, but “no food or drink may be in the activity area,” which, for theatres, meant within the auditorium itself. Instead, patrons would have had to consume their concessions within the lobby.

A wave of theatre closures had been announced earlier on Nov. 27, as theatres across the province realized that it was untenable to stay open without concession sales which allowed consumption in the auditoriums. Since movie distributors get a little over half of ticket sales, theatres rely heavily on concession sales for a substantial portion of their revenue. As word got out to various theatres, they reversed their closure announcements and preparations.

Magic Lantern Theatres president Tom Hutchinson said by email Friday night, “I found out mid-afternoon from one of our cinemas, who had been contacted by their local health officer. I had spoken to a government representative in Regina earlier in the day, but didn't get his name. He did not tell me that a reversal was being contemplated.”

Magic Lantern has theatres in North Battleford, Meadow Lake, Saskatoon and Regina.

Bill Walker, CEO of Landmark Cinemas, said by email late Friday night, “Our local managers were advised by another independent from Saskatchewan.

“We will remain open, continue to employee more of our staff and providing an enjoyable and safe movie experience.”

Landmark has theatres in Regina, Saskatoon and Yorkton, but Yorkton’s has remained closed, and will remain closed, since March.

Jocelyn Dougherty owns and operates Estevan’s Orpheum Theatre with her husband Al. She said the afternoon of Nov. 28 that they were not going to open that night, but planned on additional screenings at 1, 3:30, and 7 p.m. for Sunday, Nov. 29. And since there was no school on Monday in Estevan, they would do additional 1 and 3:30 p.m. screenings on Monday as well. The feature is one of the few new movies to come out in recent months, The Croods 2: A New Age.

Initially she has not heard confirmation, but by mid-afternoon on Saturday, she had received a phone call from the Business Response Team, confirming this reversal.

“It’s been such a roller coaster,” she said.

Dougherty added that movies are a stress reliever which “takes away your problems for two hours,” something needed during the time of COVID-19.

Hutchinson said, “We are happy that the government reversed its position, but we had advertised our cinemas were closed, and it is taking the managers a lot of work to reverse the situation. We are happy to be open because we think we contribute more to our communities by being open than by being closed. If it is necessary for us to close, we are quite prepared to do that. We need clear leadership from the province, so we can communicate clearly with our customers.

Hutchinson added, “I am sure the province is doing the best it can, and we support their efforts. In this case, the regulation was badly conceived and didn't make sense and actually worked against COVID safety, so I am glad it was reversed. It would have been nice if we had been consulted to begin, with because we could have contributed ideas that would have saved everyone a lot of worry. But we all are doing the best we can, government, business, and individuals, to limit the spread and hold on until this pandemic is over. We all make mistakes and we just have to work through them.”

Walker said, “We are pleased with the provinces decisions to review this restriction and we will continue to operate with the same focus on health and safety.”

Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury