Premiere Cinemas has reopened with safety protocols in place and the best of the spring releases, including the blockbusters “Godzilla vs Kong” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” on its screens. And patrons are quite happy to be back.
Customer Cynthia Emeterio said it had been a year since she was last in a movie theater.
“I love having the chance to come here again,” she said, “I saw ‘Minari’—it was very good but I do have to think about the ending. Being able to see Academy Award-level films at this place is one of the things I enjoy most about Hollister. The price is right, I get my popcorn experience, and the chance to see a great movie.”
Being able to reopen now has been part of a year-long back-and-forth struggle for the theater as it closed and opened again as COVID-19 restrictions changed. Theaters were closed under Tier 1 of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy but were allowed to reopen under Tier 2 at 25% capacity.
“We first closed on March 17, ,” said manager Craig Tankersley. “We were able to open a few weeks in July, then we shut down again until October. We were open for about four weeks, then the governor shut everything down again.”
During the time the theater was unable to show films, Tankersley sustained the business by selling concessions on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
“We did well with that,” he said. “People loved being able to get movie theater popcorn to take home. We had people coming in every week but they all had the same question: ‘When are you going to be able to be open again?’ Finally, at the end of March, we got the go-ahead to start showing films again.”
Tankersley has been with Premiere Cinemas in both the Hollister and Los Banos locations for 25 years and has been responsible for enacting the protocols necessary to reopen. With the current restrictions for indoor businesses, the attendance at showings is far from the capacity crowds who came to see the theater’s most popular film, 1997’s “Titanic,” which screened for a record six months. With total seating for 1,100 customers in their 10-screen theater, only 275 are currently allowed at any given time.
“Just like everyone else, we are only able to do 25% capacity,” Tankersley said.“And we have to be sure social distancing is respected with people being six feet apart. In the theaters, we have every other row closed off and we have reserved seating.”
Premiere Cinemas is operating on a limited schedule; the theater is closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Customers place orders through an online ticketing system, and seats are assigned in blocks. Two seats on either side of the party are left empty to maintain social distance. Order confirmations with a bar code are printed at home, then scanned at a kiosk in the lobby to allow for touchless ticketing.
To keep the possibility of contact spread low, employees at the concession stand now handle all packaging, including condiments, rather than having customers select them. There is also a longer gap between showings, up to 10 minutes in the larger theaters, to give employees extra time to clean the theater before the next patrons are allowed to be seated.
“I don’t want to say it is completely different here,” said Premiere Cinemas Chief of Staff Itzayana Orozco. “It does feel strange not to be able to have 200 people in one theater at a time, but we are making the adjustment. We are still doing all the things we normally do for our customers with just a few extra things to keep things cleaner. But our customers are happy to be back and I am very happy to see our regular customers coming back and seeing that they are healthy.”
For Tankersley, the theater reopening reminds him of when he first fell in love with movies after seeing his first James Bond film. He said he looks forward to sharing first-run films again with the local community.
“I am really enjoying seeing the people coming back again,” he said. “When I first started as a projectionist, it was quite something watching how people reacted to things they were seeing on the screen. Movies can have an amazing effect on people and I encourage people to come out again to see what we have to offer.”
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