Let’s pretend that you make $10 per hour. What would you do if for one year, you have to live on $1 per hour. You live paycheck to paycheck and do not have any other sources of income. You have eliminated all of the bills you can, but you still have your electric bill and other unavoidable costs. How would you survive?
This is our current reality. Our attendance is extremely low. Most days, we have had less than 20 people in the building. If you come to a matinee, your ticket is $6.50. If the studio is taking 60% of that movie’s sales, we will send them $3.90 of each ticket. So, we will keep $2.60. If the customer does not buy any concessions, we will have $52 for the day. (If all 20 of those customers purchase a candy, we will add an extra $2.00 per person to our total)
“So if you don’t have many customers, why don’t you just cut your staff or turn things off?”
The precautions and requirements of the pandemic have increased the number of employees we need to operate. At an average of $13.00 per hour, for 7-10 employees, we are covering the cost of 1 employee for the 4 hour day. Our payroll is $15,000-$20,000 per month. We need to sell over 6,000 matinee tickets in order to cover our payroll. If you have visited the Palace, you know that our staff is the why your experience is 5 star. Half of our employees have been here since the beginning. All of them have been with us at least 2 years. Sure, we could fire them all and then just start all over whenever it’s “safe” to open, but that would negatively impact your experience and that would impact our long term survival.
The building cannot be shut down. We must keep the air system running to prevent mold from growing in the building. The theater equipment is not designed to be turned off. Many theaters are experiencing multi million dollar issues because their equipment is not booting up after being closed for months.
If you are involved with the operational aspect of any business, you can look around and see how much it costs just for the bare minimum operations.
“Why haven’t things improved in the last year?”
We have obviously improved from being totally shut down. We have had a couple movies that have brought in some “sell out” crowds, so things have been “improving” and we hope this is just the start of a comeback. But:
- People are not aware of the new releases. The two most common things we hear from people are “we didn’t know you were open” and “I didn’t know movies were coming out.” We do what we can to promote both of these things, but people are still not paying attention. Part of this is of course the general fear of the virus and the precautions people are taking to stay out of public places. Part of it is that they just aren’t thinking about us. If you aren’t thinking about going to the movies, you won’t look at the showtimes. If you aren’t seeing previews on tv, you aren’t reminded to look. Until the studios can put money back into the marketing, this will not change.
- You can do your own research by googling the title of a movie you are interested in. Many studios are changing their release dates and this is a quick thing to check. We get our movie schedule weekly and just play it by ear as far as what it coming out. You can check IMDB for info about the movies.
- Social distancing limits the number of people we can have. Even if every theater in the country opened, as long as we are required to limit our capacity, we will still be handicapped. Studios will not be able to get any sort of meaningful income from 20% of the available seats in the country. It’s complicated. If we have new movies that are advertised, we still won’t have room in the theater for all of the people to watch. If we don’t have people to watch the movies, the studios won’t start advertising.
- You can avoid getting sold out by arriving early. Most people who are turned away because of a sell out arrived within 5 minutes of the movie start time. Coming 15 minutes before the showtime can make all the difference.
After we explain this, most people just nod a sympathetic nod and continue on with their day. Sometimes, it clicks, and they realize this is very very bad.
“So how are you actually making it?”
The short answer is “We aren’t.” The theater is NOT making enough money to survive. We aren’t even “making” enough to say that we are “making” any. We are surviving by borrowing money from our owners and hoping that we can repay it eventually. This uncertainty is also why we have not pursued any of the “low interest” disaster loans that are available. If the theater isn’t going to survive, it doesn’t make sense to take out loans. We have cut back where we can, but consider how many people this affects. Our security company has lost the revenue we provided when we had a guard at the building. The places we advertise our showtimes have been affected. We haven’t been able to donate items to various events. It’s a ripple effect.
“Can you get any of those PPP or other relief things?”
Yes and No. We did qualify for the first round of PPP. This gave us enough to cover payroll expenses for 2 months. That was a year ago. The Cares Act funded a couple of other relief grants that gave us another $50,000. A tiny fraction of our expenses have been covered, which is absolutely better than nothing, but it is not enough to even band-aid the catastrophic damage.
The second round of PPP did not apply to us. In theory, the relief package from December would provide us with a percentage of our 2019 income as a grant. We could not apply for a PPP AND the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. (This has been changed in the most recent relief package. We can apply for a PPP and then deduct that amount from the SVOG but right now we are waiting to see when the SVOG will open to cut down on paperwork).
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant is a huge (2 billion dollars for small movie theaters, live venues, etc) and the SBA is not equipped to handle it. They are working on getting a system together so that we can apply for the grants, but right now, we do not know when that will be. It passed in December and they have been working on it since. Hopefully soon.
“What can we do?”
The best things you can do to help us:
- BUY POPCORN. Our curbside concessions are the quickest, easiest, and most impactful way to help. For $5, you can drive away with a large popcorn. Do this often. Think about your pre-pandemic movie going. Many of you visited the theater weekly and spent $10-$20. Every single week. While stopping in once a month for some curbside popcorn is nice, think about how often you did it before. If you can come a couple times a month, you can make a big difference. Right now, our goal is to sell 500 popcorns to cover our electric bill. During a busy weekend, we could easily have 2,000 guests come through, so selling 500 popcorns should be a small goal.
- Share our posts! If people are unaware we are open, they can’t help. We post frequently to try to get the word out, but the more you talk about it, the more people we reach.
- Come to a movie! You can visit during our public showtimes, but you can also do a private showing. All of our theaters have their own air systems. (so air isn’t circulating through all of the theaters from a common source). The rooms are large and you can socially distance. You can find that request form on our homepage. We can show anything that’s on dvd (we will need to borrow yours a week before your movie if It’s something we don’t have) or you can watch a new release.
- Buy a giftcard. We have our gift cards for sale at The Beanery, The Sock Shop, and Greeks Bearing Gifts. You can get them at the theater, too.
- Support local business! When others are doing well, it comes back to us! If you’re supporting local business, those businesses can support us. Some of the businesses that have helped us by sponsoring movies include: Sr. Contreras Martial Arts, Athens Small Animal Hospital, CapStar Bank, The City of Athens, and CloudNine Nails.
“Will you be ok? Can you survive this?”
I don’t know, but we really, really REALLY want to.