The Impact of COVID-19 on Local Theatres

Conner Garrity, Staff Writer

With the world taking hit after hit during the pandemic, many businesses were affected by it. While many were forced to close for good, other businesses were fortunate enough to remain afloat. One of the largest businesses that were affected by the ever-growing pandemic was the movie theatre industry. When the pandemic began, many films were delayed or shelved until things settled down or even shifted to streaming, and theatres were forced to shut down until some form of normality arrived. 

While many may not know, only a handful of theatres reopened at first. Showcase Cinema, located in Millbury reopened its doors in late August 2020, only six months after closing in March. The theatre was one of the first theatres to reopen and only had a handful of new films to show, such as “Tenet” and “New Mutants”, and the rest were older films they decided to bring back to the cinema.  

When Showcase Cinema first reopened, it only brought a handful of employees back. Since many of the stations weren’t open, for the time being, the positions were limited. I was lucky enough to speak with some of the employees and ask them how everything has been since the reopening until this point. 

When asked, “Many people think that the movie theatre industry has taken a blow of some sort. How has it been different compared to when you first opened again?” Nora Ilaqua, who worked at the box office and guest services since reopening had this to say, “Many people were more nervous at first. The pandemic was still going on with numbers rising and falling. People didn’t want to go out into the world and people became more accustomed to staying home but eventually, people wanted to get out of the house.” 

Speaking with Nate Fontaine, an employee at the QSR station or Quick Service Restaurant, had a similar thought when it came to the reopening. Fontaine stated that “Streaming encouraged people to stay home for a while. But when the public saw how the theatre was taking the cleaning very seriously and that eventually made people feel a bit more comfortable knowing that the environment is getting constantly cleaned.” 

With streaming becoming more of a norm with everyone staying home, everyone thought this was going to be a downfall of sorts for the theatre business. Charlotte Gabree, who works as an usher for the theatre, recalled some of the early days of the reopening, “With the slow numbers coming in, many thought we were going to close down. At the start, we only brought in a handful of people each day. But with other theatres still not reopening, those who wanted to see a movie ended up flocking to our location, and even to this day, there are still people who still say “I didn’t even know you guys were still open”. 

Another employee that had a bit of a more optimistic look was Jill Beschi, a supervisor for the QSR station, who believed that “the studios that were refusing to release their films on the streaming platforms for one reason or another definitely help keep our business afloat.” 

One of the largest topics of discussion in the movie business was if streaming services were going to be the downfall of cinema. In 2020, we saw the release of HBO MAX which helped the idea of streaming becoming more of a norm of some sort for big-budget movies. A year prior we had the release of Disney Plus, and both streaming services have been in the news with their releases coming to both theatres and streaming on the same day. 

While some may worry this would play a big factor in the downfall of the theatre business, some still believe that the business can still make a comeback. Gabree had more to say regarding this topic “I think so, with many movies which have been shelved until the company wants to release them. Many films such as “A Quiet Place”, “No Time To Die” and “King’s Men” don’t have a streaming service to go to so they have to wait for the right time to release.” She wasn’t alone with that mindset, Fontaine stated “I don’t think it’s not the ultimate downfall but it made a major impact. But many studios are sticking to only theatre releases to help keep the business going. With movies like “Shang Chi” and “Venom”, both Marvel films, sticking to the theatres definitely helped us remain afloat.” Returning to Ilaqua, she mentioned that during the lockdown, Drive-In Theatres became popular, she then mentioned that when television first came out, people thought that was going to be the downfall yet here we are today. 

According to the numbers, 2019 was considered the best performing year for the theatres. With the release of “Avengers Endgame”,  “Spider-Man: Far From Home”,  “Toy Story 4”, and many others, it was going to be a difficult year to top. With theatres’ intakes slowly recovering, will there be another year like 2019? While she believes we won’t reach 2019’s heights, Illaqua thinks theatres will reach their normal numbers. She mentions that “while 2019 was a big hit like bringing in big numbers with Avengers and Spiderman, I don’t think we will ever reach that number like that for a while, but regarding returning to normal like how we were, we will have good numbers but nothing like how we were that year.” 

Speaking with Fontaine again, he thinks similar to Illaqua as in we’ll have good performing movies but maybe see another good performing year. Maybe we’ll see another year like this in the distant future. A movie like Endgame was an event of sorts that attracted many viewers but outside of that, many films will be successful but not like those numbers.”

With the return of the theatres, viewers are also adjusting to the newer policies for better or for worse. Each person I had the luxury to speak with had their own input on how the public has reacted to the theatre since reopening. 

Speaking with Beschi again, she says that “It’s a mixed bag, many wanted things to be the same while most didn’t comply. While we reopened, we may have been underprepared in some cases. With most of the stations not open since the start, but with everything slowly reopening people adjusted to that. Many were upset, but now with the mask mandate being lifted, the numbers coming in have increased.” Fontaine had a similar mixed feeling, “Many people came back being nervous after seeing a movie during the pandemic, and then some didn’t follow the proper guidelines such as wearing masks and such.” 

It has been over a year since the reopening of most theatres. While the business has had a bit of a rough start, the release of the bigger titles such as “A Quiet Place 2” and “Shang Chi” proving that people are still willing to come to the theatre. With bigger releases like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and the new James Bond Film “No Time to Die” coming out and generating excitement, the movie theatre industry isn’t going anywhere any time soon. 

For full transparency, please be advised that Conner Garrity, the writer of this article, is employed at Entertainment Cinemas.