Independent cinema operators tell Crain’s Private Intelligence that the going’s been tough—but they’re hanging on for the final reel.
At the dawn of the coronavirus outbreak, Classic Cinemas closed down its 15 theaters on March 16 last year and, save for an aborted two-week attempt to reopen mid-summer, has been dark ever since. The chain plans to reopen April 15 at 25 percent capacity, and CEO Chris Johnson says that “our first goal is to make zero money—in other words, just stop the losses.”
In all corners of the pandemic-ravaged economy, ranging from gyms to hotels to restaurants, movie theaters have suffered as much as anybody. The state of Illinois at various points has allowed operators to reopen under rules that restricted attendance to 25 or 50 people per screen, hardly enough to pay for a janitorial service. But the ultimate insult came from the big Hollywood studios, with companies like Disney and Warner Brothers deciding last year to hold back their new films altogether and show them on subscription video streaming services instead.
Johnson reports his revenues plummeted 93 percent when the virus hit last year after a buoyant 2019 year in which Classic, operating as a subsidiary of Downers Grove-based Tivoli Enterprises, grossed $41 million in revenues and kept a staff of 460 employed. Competitors include most notably the publicly-traded goliath AMC Entertainment Holdings, which has scrambled in recent weeks to renegotiate its debt to stave off bankruptcy and keep its 1,000 locations from being taken over by landlords……