GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — To say it has been a long seven months for the Grand Rapids-based theater chain started by Emily Loeks’ grandfather in the 1940s would be an understatement.
“It has been the biggest whiplash of a year we’ve experienced in our 75-year history,” Loeks said.
The reopening of Celebration Cinema’s Michigan theaters is set to begin Friday.
Six of the chain’s 10 theaters, including Celebration North, Studio Park, Rivertown — all in the Grand Rapids area — Crossroads in Portage, Lansing and Cinema Carousel in Muskegon, will open Friday.
Celebration South near Grand Rapids, Mount Pleasant, Benton Harbor and Studio C Meridian Mall east of Lansing will likely reopen in the next few weeks.
“We’ll be sort of waiting or a little more clarity about the demand and also the new movie content prior to reopening the remaining four,” Loeks said.
Showtimes will vary and will be updated on Celebration’s website.
The chain is asking customers to wear masks, except when seated or eating.
Social distancing in the theaters will be accomplished by the company’s seating reservation system. Families and groups will be allowed to sit together. The reservation system will distance them from others.
“The spacing that we are working on is how to create a buffer of space around that grouping so that everyone feels comfortable,” Loeks said.
The chain is suspending its online seating reservation surcharge.
If you want to buy your ticket at the theater, bring a credit card. Cash won’t be accepted to reduce direct customer, employee contact.
Both ticket and concession lines are marked for social distancing.
Celebration is also promoting its concession delivery service.
Those are the precautions you can see. Other measures you won’t see.
“We have a very robust HVAC system that we can adjust for fresh air intake. We have the benefit of high ceilings,” Loeks said.
Risk reduction is just one of the challenges facing theater owners.
The other is the availability of movies.
Movie production was also halted during the pandemic. The distribution of completed movies is limited.
“And that’s been a bit of a chicken and an egg situation with our industry, where theaters are waiting for Hollywood content. Hollywood is waiting for enough theaters across the county to reopen,” Loeks said.
The big opening for Celebrations and other movie chains will be Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” originally scheduled for a July release.
Independent and family flicks will fill out the rest of the bill.
“We’re expecting some really important Hollywood films to be rolling out in November. And there are some terrific independent films that we’ll be able to play right out of the gate,” Loeks said.
Loeks hopes the slow opening will help build customer confidence in the safety of theaters.
“I feel very confident that we’re taking the steps to do that right,” Loeks said. “And that we’re going to provide an experience that, as we move into fall and winter, people will recognize us as one of the safest indoor spaces that one can be in.”