For those who have been missing the opportunity to check out first-run movie releases on the local big screens, last week seemed to portend some good news.
With Gov. Kate Brown’s new guidance and the latest revision of county risk levels, Deschutes County dropped out of the extreme risk category. Movie theaters could then, in theory, reopen again. But for operators like us at Sisters Movie House, this was, quite simply not an option. Like Regal Cinemas in Bend, we have been closed now for many months simply to ensure our survival. To reopen now under Oregon’s current state guidelines would guarantee we lose even more money than we currently do, while staying closed.
For starters, Oregon is currently the only state in America where movie theaters are not allowed to sell concessions at any level of reopening. Since the large percentage of every ticket sold goes to movie distributors, concessions are essential to our industry’s survival.
This prohibition does not appear to be grounded in science. The National Association of Theater Owners reviewed the scientific literature and could find no peer reviewed analysis tying a COVID-19 outbreak to movie theaters anywhere in the world. To the contrary, contact tracing in South Korea showed that out of 31.5 million theater visits in the last year, 49 COVID-positive people attended theaters, and there were no outbreaks due to these visits.
Live performance venues, restaurants and bars can all sell food in Oregon, despite the fact that all of them involve higher risk indoor behaviors that are 1 to 3 orders of magnitude more risky in terms of COVID-19 transmission, according to a peer reviewed journal article.
This letter is a cry for help from our elected public officials.
Unlike a number of nonprofit venues and cultural institutions who received assistance ($25 million worth) from the state emergency board way back in the summer of 2020, Oregon’s movie theater businesses have received next to zero assistance to date. There are circa 600 movie screens in Oregon in 118 different locations spread across our fair state, with a greater proportion of small independents and “single screen” venues than just about any other state in the country – and yet we have been wholly ignored by the state’s bureaucracy.
Most of us have been ineligible to receive loans like those that have aided the restaurant industry (PPP loans) and any emergency assistance has been so small it can only register as a blip of income. For theaters like ours, that have now been continuously shut for over 330 days, the losses have been massive. Most cinemas (big and small) in our state have seen revenues drop by 90% or more between 2019 and 2020.
Compounding the problem, we have no firm understanding when life might “return to normal.”
Many movie theaters in Oregon are on the brink of bankruptcy and/or closing entirely. We are asking every movie fan to reach out to local legislators and to tell them how much we mean to you.
Help make Salem aware that the local movie theater is actually an endangered species right now, and without some assistance to make up for our unjustified and crippling losses, many will shutter for good.
In so many of Oregon’s smaller towns and counties, the local movie theater is the cultural life blood of the community. We must act now if we are going to save it.