Movie goers will again be able to enjoy popcorn with their films following a tweak of the pandemic restrictions to allow theaters to reopen concession stands.
David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said the change was made because of more stable rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations and to bring Connecticut in line with neighboring states, which allow concession sales.
“You have seen a stabilization certainly of our hospitalizations over the past month and a half,” he said. “Secondly we’ve looked at many other states ... and I think Connecticut was unique in this restriction, so I want to make sure we’re mindful of the limitations we’re putting on businesses.”
Under the phase 2.1 reopening guidelines put into place in November, movie theaters were specifically prohibited from resuming food sales, while bowling alleys and other indoor recreation businesses were permitted to sell food since many had separate dining areas.
Daniel Vice, operations manager for Picture Show Entertainment, said they’re excited for the change and were already at work getting the concessions stand at their Berlin theater up and running within hours of the decision on Friday afternoon. The company operates 12 theaters across the country.
With parties separated by seats marked off for social distancing, ventilation systems cycling fresh air into theaters and employees dedicated to disinfecting surfaces, Vice said having a snack in a theater is at least as safe as eating in a restaurant.
“It is safe, because there’s plenty of space around here, there's plenty of socially distancing ...we aren’t concerned for any potential for contamination or anyone getting sick,” he said.
Concessions are also important to the bottom line and will allow theaters to bring back more employees.
“ … It means more hours for our workers and we’ll be able to increase our staff, which is good because we don't want to lose some of our kids that have stuck with us through this whole thing,” Vice said.
Due to lackluster ticket sales for major releases, Warner Bros. Pictures announced in December that all of the studios’ 2021 movies would be available in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously, according to the Associated Press. The pivot to streaming follows the studio’s decision to stream “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max in December alongside its theater release.
“We’ve got to get people back in theaters at full capacity at some point. If you read the medical experts that’s going to take a while to work its way through the system,” Ann Sarnoff, chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios, told the AP in an interview. “If we saw an end in sight to the pandemic, we might have a different strategy. But we don’t see that at this moment.”
Vice is optimistic about the rest of the year because of the COVID vaccine. For now, the company is supplementing the slower pace of Hollywood releases with screenings of older classics.
For customers who are uncomfortable coming into a theater alongside other guests, the company has reduced the cost of VIP screenings, which allow groups of up to 20 guests to rent out a theater for a private screening. While previously a private screening would have needed to cover the cost of the lost ticket sales, now it’s $100 plus the base ticket cost for each guest, or a flat $75 for a screening of a classic film.
“That's been extremely popular and been a great way to get people back into the theater,” Vice said. Some prospective customers, however, told him they planned to hold off until they could buy popcorn.
“It's not the same when you walk in the door and you aren't hit with that smell of buttery popcorn,” he said.