Main Street Movies 5: Safely screening movies during the pandemic
Main Street Movies 5 had to get creative in order to stay afloat during the original statewide lockdown, which ended in June.
Virtually, every small business took a hit in income since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, and Main Street has been no exception.
Main Street Movies 5 had to get creative in order to stay afloat during the original statewide lockdown, which ended in June. Unlike restaurants that can do takeout, it is pretty hard to emulate a movie theater experience from home. But that did not stop the team at Main Street Movies from trying.
Michael Miller, the general manager of Main Street Movies 5, explained the theater’s decision to allow patrons to stream classic and independent films for free during the shelter-in-place period in the spring.
“It’s hard to tell how well the service went over,” Miller said. “Because it was free, we didn’t really get any statistics for it. But, I think it helped with name recognition.”
After Gov. John Carney allowed limited capacity for indoor businesses in June, Main Street Movies 5 began offering movie tickets for $1. Patrick O’Neill, a junior at the university, took advantage of this new discount.
“Before the pandemic, I probably went to Main Street Movies at least once a month,” O’Neill said. “I went twice over the summer when they were offering tickets for $1. The first time I was there, no one else was in the theater.”
Despite the low cost for tickets, the promotion provided a boost in sales for Main Street Movies 5.
“When we first reopened, we were seeing about 10 people a day,” Miller said. “When we started doing tickets for $1, we started getting 100 people a day.”
Once the semester started for the university, the absence of students living on-campus became a glaring problem for Main Street Movies 5.
“Students made up 30% to 40% of our customers,” Miller said. “Late afternoon, evenings when there was nothing else to do, students used to come to the theater. It’s been a big hit to business.”
Theaters have not been the only aspect of the film industry to suffer during the pandemic. Movie production has been delayed due to safety concerns, leading to a limited number of film premieres this fall.
Christopher Nolan’s newest sci-fi adventure, “Tenet,” premiered on Sept. 3. Drew Rackie, recent university alumnus and Newark local, had a desire to see the film on the big screen, which led him to visit Main Street Movies 5.
“I was a bit nervous about going to the theater, because I was afraid of being in such an enclosed space,” Rackie said. “It seemed that MSM [Main Street Movies 5] took all the necessary precautions, which you would expect a business to take during the pandemic. I think what made me feel safe was the lack of other people in the building — if it was crowded I may have felt different.”
Safety has been a primary focus of Main Street Movies 5 since reopening. Although Miller said they comply with all the guidelines from the state, he said that a fear of COVID-19 could be what is keeping patrons home.
“The rest of the community, the ones who aren’t students, seem to be much slower to return to normal,” Miller said. “We’re following all the safety regulations and keeping people six feet apart.”
As more and more studio films push back their release dates further into 2021, it remains unclear how Main Street Movies 5 and other local theaters will recover from the pandemic.