Celebration Cinema gauges reopening plan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The movie screens at Studio Park were part of a $160 million development that opened in downtown Grand Rapids last September.

Right now, the screens look the same as they did in the days before the complex opened: Dark.

Most of the Celebration Cinema movie theater chain’s over 900 employees are furloughed.

“This is a strange and hard and unusual time,” said Emily Loeks, who’s grandfather opened his first movie house in downtown Grand Rapids over 75 years ago.

Unless it’s extended, Gov. Whitmer’s executive order closing certain businesses expires at the end of the month, which would allow movie theaters to reopen.

“That will not likely happen at the end of this month,” said Loeks.

Right now, there is no time table for reopening.

Loeks says there’s still a lot to do beyond following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on things like wearing masks and other protective measures.

That includes limiting customer contact with employees as much as possible.

Celebration has removed the fee for buying tickets online.

And there won’t be lines for popcorn. Customers will be able to buy concessions on the theater’s app and have it delivered to their seat.

Also, seating will be limited.

Celebration switched to reserved seating a few years back.

“That enables us to not sell certain rows. And we’re looking at removing the capacity to sell certain seats to space grouping out further,” Loeks said.

Even then, Celebration Cinema, which has theaters across the state, will consider regional conditions before reopening.

The other challenge involves what they’ll be able to put on the screen, since the pandemic has shut down movie production and distribution of films already completed.

“A big distributor like Warner Brothers or others aren’t going to put out a picture like Wonder Woman until they feel like there’s theaters across the country and around the world that can open,” Lokes said.

Right now, Tenet and Mulan are among the big name releases scheduled for July.

“We’ll likely reopen with some big pictures as well as bring back some repertory product,” Loeks said. “People’s comfort food film if you will.”

The impact on the family-owned theater chain has gone well beyond the financial losses.

“We want to turn toward each other in hard times, community matters, gathering matters,” Loeks said.

COVID-19 has brought a new reality to that ability.

“And yet, there’s a lot of creativity and a lot of work that’s going into figuring that out,” Loeks said. “Because it does matter. It does matter for communities to be connected.”

If theater popcorn will get you through the wait, you can order Celebration Cinema’s version of the movie mainstay by using Uber Eats.

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