CORONAVIRUS

Corridor movie theaters close curtains amid coronavirus outbreak

Collins Road Theatres owner Bruce Taylor stands in one of the then-newly remodeled theaters in Cedar Rapids in 2015. (Th
Collins Road Theatres owner Bruce Taylor stands in one of the then-newly remodeled theaters in Cedar Rapids in 2015. (The Gazette)

Bruce Taylor wasn’t thinking about a shutdown as he headed to work at Collins Road Theatres, which he owns and manages, earlier this week.

Ticket sales had been slower than usual, with 35 to 40 people at most filling the 170-seat auditoriums at his theater, on Twixt Town Road in Cedar Rapids, over the past few weeks.

Even so, Taylor said, his venue had instituted COVID-19 protections — including restricting ticket sales to 50 per auditorium and ensuring at least two empty seats between patrons — in the hopes that the movie house would be a less “scary” environment during the pandemic, and moviegoers still would turn out.

“Quite literally, as of 11 (Tuesday) morning, I was just getting ready to leave for work when one of our staff called,” Taylor recalled.

He learned Gov. Kim Reynolds had declared a statewide public health disaster emergency, closing movie theaters, among other nonessential businesses, at least until the end of the month.

One silver lining, Taylor said, is that his theater closed during what he described as a yearly “valley” in terms of big cinematic releases.

“Right now, the movies we had available aren’t the cream of the crop, so to speak, they’re not the summer tentpoles,” he said.

“It’s a lot better to do this now than it would be over the Fourth of July.”

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Taylor said he also does not believe the coronavirus will affect possible plans to open a new theater as part of a multimillion-dollar proposal for the site once planned for a casino, at First Street and First Avenue SW in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Taylor said he had “officially” indicated interest in that concept, which also could include a Big Grove Brewery, ice skating rink, a Spare Time family fun center and apartment and condo units. But it’s still in its early stages, and “far from a done deal,” he added.

Even so, Taylor now is left hoping the virus outbreak is resolved as quickly as possible, and plans to look into emergency funding options in the interim. Many of the theater’s 31 employees are high schoolers who do not have sick leave and likely would not qualify for unemployment insurance, based on their hours, he said.

“For all of the businesses like us that are completely shut down, it’s going to be just bad — there’s nothing good to say about it,” he said. “We have zero income, zero revenue, there are no side streams at all and, of course, the rent still goes on.”

Larger movie theater chains have taken a hit, too, as movie theater nationwide have closed and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people.

Marcus Theatres, which owns theaters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Coralville, on Tuesday announced its screens will go dark until further notice.

“It’s important that we help our nation’s preventive efforts with this outbreak for the benefit of our guests, associates and the communities in which we do business,” the company said on its website.

The nation’s largest chain, AMC Theatres, also on Tuesday said its theaters would close for at least six to 12 weeks, saying the latest federal health guidelines made operations “essentially impossible.” One AMC theater is located across from Westdale Town Center in Cedar Rapids.

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Taylor said the movie theater closures also have a “ripple effect” on intertwined businesses, including beverage providers and film booking agents.

The closures came as Disney indefinitely postponed multiple key releases, including “Black Widow,” “David Copperfield” and “The Woman in the Window,” and Universal Pictures announced plans to make current and upcoming films available for on-demand rental.

According to data company Comscore, last weekend marked Hollywood’s worst weekend at the box office in at least 20 years, with ticket sales totaling approximately $55.3 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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