We need to talk and I know how you feel about difficult conversations so I’ll try to be gentle. Things aren’t good. They haven’t been good for a while. I’m not giving up on us, but I want to be honest with you. I need you more than I ever have. I can’t do this alone. I’m scared we wont be together forever if this continues and all I’ve ever wanted was to be a meaningful part of your life for years to come. You’ve thrown a lot of comments and questions at me lately so I thought if we had this conversation, you will understand where I’m coming from.
I know we are all struggling right now in our own ways. Some of us are battling the demons we had before this virus came into our lives. Some of us are sick both because of the virus and the other illnesses that do still exist. Some of us are stressed about the uncertainty about our kids’ education. Some of us are paralyzed with fear about losing our jobs. We are ALL struggling and for a lot of us, that means we go into a panic.
Our brains lose the ability to process life. We stop thinking rationally. We stop thinking about the impacts of our actions. We stop looking for ways to fix our situations. We stop.
For me, movies stopped. Fight or flight wasn’t an option. The one thing I had to attract customers just stopped. I know, I know. Some of you come solely for the popcorn, but the large majority of people come to see a movie. Many people still pass on concessions despite the efforts made to educate the public about how the studios take up to 70% of the ticket sales. What hasn’t stopped? The bills. Payroll, insurance, electricity to name a few.
When this all started, my owner made a decision to continue paying the staff as if things were normal. This seemed like the only thing to do with the difficulty so many have getting unemployment and the fact that initially this was supposed to last a couple of weeks. Many of our employees rely on this check to support their families. Payroll is around $20,000 a month. Even “shut down” the equipment running minimally, the air running to keep mold from forming in our vacant building, etc costs around $1800 a month.
Sure, we could lay off our staff. Most of them have been here since the beginning. If we lay them off, they could be forced to get other jobs and they aren’t able to return to the Palace. This would be devastating to the Palace experience. 99% of our positive reviews mention our staff. THEY are the reason you have a great experience. We cannot control if you like your movie, but we can make sure you have a great experience otherwise. Our staff IS the Palace experience. So, yes, we could save that payroll cost, but that creates bigger problems.
We got the news today that (not surprisingly) Disney has moved some movies a year and removed some entirely from the release calendar leaving us with no idea when this will end. Top Gun had been moved to Christmas but is now moving to 2021. We have been showing older movies, but it’s nowhere near the same as when we have new movies. Many people are still staying safe and do not feel comfortable in public at all. Some people are not interested in paying for movies they own. Some haven’t been worried about visiting the theater (or other small businesses) and haven’t checked to see if we are open. All of these things are understandable.
Right now, we do not know when new movies will be released. Our plan is to continue with our socially distanced operations. Our process is this: In an attempt to limit indoor activity, we have guests go through a simple screening outside where they get their tickets. We open doors to limit what they touch. We have employees assigned to individual tasks so we are not cross contaminating. (The cashier is not handling both your popcorn and money). We help you find seats that are 6 feet away from other groups. We are sanitizing extra and reducing the number of things customers touch.
We are showing the older movies that the studios are offering to us. These movies have been significantly discounted. Normally, we pay $250-$400 for one night. Right now, we are paying $50-$150 per movie for the week. This helps us out so much, but in this set up, we are not allowed to sell tickets. This has been confusing to some, so let me explain. We –could- charge admission if we wanted to BUT… charging admission is a different agreement. It requires a box office report. In order for us to generate a box office report, we would have to sell tickets through our point of sale inside. We would have to print the tickets on our expensive thermal paper. It would also disrupt our attempt to limit inside activity. And lastly, it would be harder for us to know how many seats we have left in a theater. The payment for the movie if we charge admission will be a percentage or a set minimum, whichever is higher. So we could end up paying more for the movies if we charge admission. So for the time being, we are not charging admission and just hoping people will purchase concessions. We have 4 showtimes of 2-3 movies a week. Check our usual showtime places plus social media for current offerings.
We are also offering curbside concessions. Curbside purchases are an easy way to make a big difference. We do not have to clean up the dropped popcorn. We have a lot less resources invested in that curbside popcorn, so your purchase is really helping us. You don’t have to get out of your car. Contact is minimal. Purchasing concessions is also helping us move inventory so we don’t have to throw away as much. (We had field trips scheduled the week we closed and had just stocked up on supplies so we had more on hand than normal when we shut down, while the items aren’t perishable, they do have “Best by” dates)
Currently, we are having a good day if we bring in $300 dollars between curbside and in theater purchases… 4 days a week. Our auditoriums are mostly empty. The most people we had across 3 movies was 65. The lowest attendance we had across 3 movies was 5 people.
Because we are paying our staff regardless, we have set a personal goal to pay the monthly electric bill with our operations.
So, how can you help us through this?
BUY CONCESSIONS. Dropping by and picking up a $5 popcorn can make a big difference. If 25 people a day stopped in for just $5 in popcorn, we could cover the electric bill. Less people are required if you also buy a $2 drink! We also have $20 coupon books. If we could sell all that we have of these, we’d have enough for a half our payroll one pay period. These coupon books have over $40 in savings that will be available to use once we open regularly. (or now, but it’s really not worth it for you to use them now…) We are open 4 days a week and times are available in all of the usual places, our website, recording line, DPA, etc. We have also been posting on our social media.
PAY CASH. A lot of places are going to a contactless payment situation, and yes, tapping your card is simple, but we have to pay a percentage to the credit card company. If you pay with cash, we get to keep the full price you pay. Exact change can limit the amount of back and forth with the money. We do not add tax at the end, so your $5 popcorn is $5.
SHARE OUR POSTS. Lots of people say they didn’t know we were open, so when you share our posts, you are getting the word out.
FOLLOW THROUGH! We have asked for input on movies many times, both before and during the pandemic. Many times, we’ve played the movies that were mentioned and had low attendance. If you take the time to share your opinion about a movie, make an effort to come see it!
SCHEDULE A PRIVATE SHOWING. If you’re not quite ready to be around strangers, we do have multiple theaters where we could put your private group.
I have faith that we can be together again soon. I don’t want to say goodbye to you. I love it here. I love seeing you. You give me purpose. Without you, I can’t give so much of myself to this community. I just want you to know that I love you and I appreciate all of the thoughts and positive encouragement. I am hopeful that we will get through this. I want you to know that I am thinking about you, too. I am sad that I can’t cheer you up in the same way I did before. I’m glad we had this talk. I know you’re confused, too, and while I don’t have all of the answers or information, I wanted you to know where I am… at least right now. Things are changing so quickly, and it is my unwavering hope that this will all be behind us very soon and we will all be stronger…more compassionate…better than we were before.
Athens Movie Palace