Theater in Steamboat reopens in May after challenges from pandemic, limited releases, water leak
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Wildhorse 6 Stadium Cinemas General Manager Brent Almon is looking forward to being able to rehire his furloughed employees before the sole movie theater in Routt County reopens again, hopefully on Memorial Day weekend.
The theater that often provides the first job experience for a crew of as many as 20 teenagers and young adults has been closed since November 2020. The theater was hit with double trouble — dealing with a pandemic as well as a burst water pipe due to a late winter cold snap that damaged flooring and some electrical wiring in the empty building.
“We know the theater is an important part of the community, so we are doing everything we can to reopen,” said David Corwin, president of parent company Metropolitan Theatres, a Los Angeles-based family-owned business for 97 years.
Almon does not know exactly which movies will be showing when the six-screen theater opens again around May 28, but he receives multiple phone calls and messages each week asking when the theater will reopen. The general manager as well as local business owners can’t wait for the return of movie-loving, snack-buying customers.
“We are just looking forward to getting our customers back and getting some sort of new normalcy,” said Almon, theater manager for more than four years.
While Almon was catching up on paperwork and hanging a poster for the forthcoming Disney movie “Cruella,” restaurant owner Mike Eller stopped by to see when the theater will open to help draw additional customers to nearby Blue Sage Pizza, which moved across the street into a larger location in the fall.
“We could use some movie patrons. We are looking forward to the reopening,” Eller said.
The Wildhorse, part of a 16-theater chain including Colorado locations in Aspen and Loveland, did reopen for about three months starting in late August with socially distanced seating. With the combined COVID-19 health concerns, 25% capacity restrictions at the time and “not a lot of desirable content” released by movie studios, Corwin said the theater moved to reduced showings Thursdays through Sundays only. The management dropped weekend early afternoon matinees that previously drew a strong following of local older adults, Almon said.
“It’s been about survival. It’s as bleak of circumstances that it’s ever been in this business, without a doubt,” said Corwin, a fourth-generation leader of the family business.
He reported an 80% decline in company sales in the past year.
Metropolitan Theatres adopted the nationwide CinemaSafe program that promotes protocols developed by epidemiologists to support a safe return to movie theaters. Wildhorse also gained some technological upgrades such as a mobile app to purchase tickets and the use of contactless ticket taking by scanning barcodes.
Before the end of 2021, Corwin expects further rollouts of upgrades such as specific seat reservations, mobile ordering capability for concessions and private screen rentals for groups of up to 20 people. He believes the summer will be positive for the movie theater business, perhaps returning to pre-pandemic attendance levels, due to pent-up customer demand and movie studios releasing more consistent product.
The next closest movie theater, West Twin Cinema in downtown Craig, is open and recently screened “Godzilla vs. Kong in 3D.” That two-screen theater originally opened in April 1939 and was remodeled in late 2019 by new owners, which are two active Craig families.
Movie theater operators in rural towns have tried a variety of options during the pandemic, ranging from showing free holiday movies for Christmas to selling to-go popcorn to hosting special screenings for residents of senior living centers.
Russell Allen, president of the 70-member Rocky Mountain National Association of Theater Owners, said he used three, stacked shipping containers to create a pop-up outdoor theater for a while. With 16 theaters in his family business that started in 1912, including locations in Durango and Cortez, Russell had to lay off 220 employees in April 2020 and 263 more in October.
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