Reopening of Celebration Cinema Marks ‘Highlight’ of ‘Roller Coaster Journey’ Through Pandemic

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Digital movie projectors are on and ready to go.

Staff have been trained in the latest health and safety guidelines. And to reduce queues and promote social distancing, popcorn, soda, and other concession items can be purchased online and brought directly to the customer’s seat.

After seven months of closure, Celebration Cinema is should reopen on Friday.

“It’s definitely a highlight of what has been a roller coaster ride for us over the past seven months,” said JD Loeks, president of Studio C, the parent company of Celebration Cinema. “If you had told me in March that we would still be closed in October, I would have thought that would be curtains for our business.”

He credits “fantastic business partners” and “gracious” employees for helping his company through this difficult time.

Theaters across much of the Lower Peninsula have been closed since at least March 16, when Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closure of a host of businesses as part of his administration’s efforts to minimize the spread of COVID- 19.

At the end of last month, Whitmer issued an executive order giving theaters, performance halls, arcades, bowling alleys and other places of entertainment permission to reopen on Friday, October 9. Theaters on the Upper Peninsula and 17 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula have been given the green light to reopen on June 10.

Celebration Cinema will reopen three cinemas in the Grand Rapids area on Friday, one in Portage, one in Lansing and one in Muskegon. Four remaining theaters in Mount Pleasant, Benton Harbor, Lansing and the suburb of Grand Rapids are expected to reopen in the coming weeks.

“We are opening our six largest theaters and we anticipate that we will be able to open our four smaller theaters if our screenings are in a week or two,” said Emily Loeks, spokesperson for Studio C.

When the lights come on Friday at the Celebration Cinema, it won’t be business as usual.

Whitmer’s order reduced the capacity of state theaters to 20 people per 1,000 square feet, and Celebration Cinema uses its reserved seating system to ensure all groups are spaced at least six feet apart. others.

The company is also urging customers to purchase tickets and concession items online. According to the company, this will reduce queues and congestion in the halls of theaters. In addition, all theatergoers will be required to wear masks and improved cleaning procedures have been implemented.

With these measures in effect, JD Loeks says he is convinced that watching a movie in one of his theaters is a safe activity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Plans to keep people safe and well separated are proving to be very effective,” Loeks said, pointing to a set of health guidelines used by theaters called Cinema Safe. He noted that there had been no confirmed cases of coronavirus linked to someone visiting a movie theater.

Between 200 and 250 Celebration Cinema employees are expected to return to work this weekend now that the company is reopening. It had around 1,000 employees before the pandemic.

Kent County health worker Adam London said “every activity in public comes with some risk.”

“It is not possible to access 100% zero risk public activity in the midst of a pandemic,” London said in an email. “However, we believe that if the proper precautions are used consistently, watching a movie in a theater can be a low risk activity.”

The Loeks family has been showing films in West Michigan for decades. Jack Loeks started his first theater in downtown Grand Rapids in 1944. It now has 11 theaters across the region, including the Getty Drive-In in Muskegon. In October 2019, the family opened Studio Park, a $ 160 million retail, residential and moving theater complex in downtown Grand Rapids.

Being closed for seven months hit Studio C.

In early September, Emily Loeks said Celebration Cinema had losses of nearly a million dollars per month during the pandemic. And even if Celebration Cinema reopens, these financial challenges shouldn’t go away overnight.

JD Loeks said he expected business “to be slow for a while”.

One of the reasons why: Hollywood is delaying the release of blockbuster movies because a large number of theaters in New York and California remain closed. And fewer blockbusters showing on Celebration Cinema screens means fewer attendees, Loeks said.

“It will be a long way for us to go,” he said. “Turning on the lights tomorrow doesn’t mean we’re going to start making money again. It may be six months before you start making money again.

Still, there are a lot of great movies showing at Celebration Cinema, Loeks said.

One blockbuster shown in the company’s theaters is “Tenet,” a sci-fi action film by acclaimed director Christopher Nolan released last month. Smaller, independent films like “On the Rocks” by director Sofia Coppola and “Possessor” by director Brandon Cronenberg are also in the spotlight.

“Some people will come when they’re ready, and they’ll come when there are big movies,” Loeks said. “This is certainly a really unique opportunity for a lot of independent and smaller tickets that would never have a screen in a multiplex.”

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