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How One Movie Theater Owner Is Selling Curbside Popcorn to Pay His Employees



Mark O’Meara has endured blizzards, hurricanes and financial recessions. Even in three toes of snow, he’s managed to maintain the lights on at College Mall and Cinema Arts, the 2 film theaters he owns in Fairfax, Va. However for the primary time in 29 years, he needed to shut his doorways because the coronavirus pandemic continues to comb via the nation — and his personal yard.

“It’s horrible,” O’Meara mentioned. “All my life, I’ve had all types of tragedies, however I’ve by no means had an issue lacking a meal or sleeping. This has been bugging me. I’ve been waking up in the course of the night time. As a 67-year-old, you’re purported to get sleep, however I haven’t been capable of.”

O’Meara wasn’t simply distressed about having to shutter his multiplexes. He was uneasy about how his workers, most of whom are underneath 30, would keep afloat with no regular paycheck. As basically all cinemas within the U.S. have been compelled to shut amid the worldwide heath disaster, an estimated 150,000 employees have been furloughed or let go solely.

“I’ve plenty of youngsters working right here that make a residing on a shoestring, and I can’t pay that properly,” O’Meara informed Selection final week, two days earlier than his theaters have been compelled to shut. “They’ll’t afford to lose multiple or two shifts per week, and I don’t know what to do.”

Since he couldn’t promote film tickets, O’Meara took inspiration from a close-by McDonald’s that was providing solely takeout. Final Wednesday, he began to promote “curbside concessions,” hawking giant tubs of popcorn for $3.

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“Now we have a car parking zone the width of a sidewalk and no one else is open, so there’s loads of house,” he mentioned. “I’ll do what I can to get these youngsters paid.”

On his first afternoon in enterprise, O’Meara bought $25 value of popcorn in 45 minutes. He’s now averaging $300 to $400 a day in concession gross sales.

O’Meara refers to College Mall, a three-screen, second-run theater, as “old style” as a result of they’ll’t promote film tickets on-line. However Cinema Arts, his barely bigger venue that homes principally indie fare, has collected a pair thousand {dollars} in on-line present playing cards, he estimates. Fb has been their important supply of promoting to get the phrase out locally.

“Everyone seems to be house, and no one has something to do besides examine Fb,” he mentioned. “We’ve gotten tons of likes and feedback and so they’re all telling folks, so it’s spreading.”

The concession stand gross sales won’t be sufficient for O’Meara to cowl overhead prices, however he’s already seen the impression it’s had on his staffers.

“Somebody received her paycheck,” O’Meara recalled final Wednesday, the afternoon his theaters shuttered. “I used to be watching her. She took out her calculator and he or she mentioned, ‘Sure, I will pay the lease.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

It’s not simply his workers who’ve to fret about paying the payments. There’s huge uncertainty over when theaters throughout the nation would possibly be capable of reopen, and O’Meara is worried about making ends meet.

“My landlord will get it,” O’Meara mentioned. “There are issues happening past our management, and we have to determine what to do. There are insurance policies for pandemics, however who the hell would have purchased one? We didn’t.”

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He added, “I’m going to see what payments I will pay. I don’t have additional money within the financial institution, so it’ll be attention-grabbing.”

Your complete film enterprise — from mom-and-pop venues to bigger chains like AMC, Regal and Cinemark — is feeling the stress and will battle if “keep at house” measures prolong longer than anticipated. O’Meara operates with a “glass half-full” mentality and says his place as “a cornerstone of the group” is advantageous.

“All of us little folks, being extra part of the group, we’re higher suited to rally,” O’Meara mentioned. “The bigger chains get much more prospects, however I get to know my viewers properly.”

After sending out a publication to tell patrons his theaters can be indefinitely closed, lots of them reached out by way of e-mail to ask how they may assist maintain him in enterprise.

“I had tears in my eyes once I learn these,” he mentioned. “Prospects say, ‘You don’t perceive how a lot this place means to me.’”

In current weeks, studios have pulled main motion pictures from launch since there isn’t wherever to point out them. Solely two movies up to now — Common’s “Trolls World Tour” and Paramount’s “The Lovebirds” — have opted to skip theatrical releases solely and as an alternative launch straight on house leisure. Some are questioning if the brand new mannequin, breaking the normal 90-day window, will change the best way the trade operates in the long run. However O’Meara isn’t satisfied it’ll maintain when regular life resumes.

“I believe they’ll determine actual fast they received’t make as a lot cash,” he mentioned. “They want the theatrical window to construct phrase of mouth. I at all times thought theaters have been the very best promoting software.”

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For now, there’s a bigger menace that looms as moviegoers are staying house with nothing to do — streaming companies.

“The opposite day, a girl simply took her popcorn and mentioned, ‘We’re going to look at Netflix.’ I mentioned, ‘Why did you inform me that?,’” O’Meara recalled. “It makes good sense with youngsters house, however my fear is that they’re going to get within the behavior of doing that. However I don’t suppose they’ll.”

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