St. Albert Landmark Cinemas plans to open Friday, June 26, with restricted seating, staggered showtimes and lots of hand sanitizer.
Since the Alberta government’s second phase of reopening comes into effect June 12, allowing theatres to screen movies, Landmark is positioning itself for the final steps in making the movie-going experience safe for its audience and staff alike.
“Our object, our goal when we talk about reopening is that people feel comforted coming here,” said Bill Walker, Landmark Cinema's CEO.
The Calgary-based company, which owns 46 theatres from Ottawa to Vancouver, operates an eight-screen theatre in St. Albert. Due to the pandemic, the company closed its doors in March and laid off 1,500 employees, leaving only 30 to manage day-to-day operations.
“It had a staggering impact on us and we had to make some tough decisions,” Walker said.
Landmark received the federal government’s Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy Program and rehired up to 125 employees who worked to find solutions for an eventual reopening.
As Phase 2 swings into effect, the St. Albert theatre’s wide recliner seats are restricted to 45 per cent capacity and are available in a checkered pattern.
“Because of the length in the aisle and the blocking of seats, it should work fairly well,” Walker said.
Movie-lovers will be required to maintain physical distancing while directional arrows regulate traffic flow. Staff will serve food behind a Plexiglas shield and the free-style beverage counters are now outfitted with dividers.
“It will feel like any quick serve. We’re trying to make sure people can flow through them as quickly as possible. By creating a flow from step one to step two to step three, we hope to keep everyone safe.”
Summer blockbusters held back
Studios are holding back the release of first-run summer blockbusters until enough theatres open to reach a critical mass.
“Unless there’s enough theatres open, it’s not financially viable for them.”
Modelling several American cities that have opened their theatres, Landmark is filling the gap with classic and vintage movies.
“We’re looking at Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Forrest Gump and some others. We’re trying to pick the best movies for a safe night out. And they will be priced appropriately.”
Walker notes St. Albertans have strongly supported Landmark in the past and advises people to book seats online to avoid disappointment, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We have created social distancing and a flow that will make the experience enjoyable. We hope people who come will find a degree of comfort in our theatres.”