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Theater Owner Reflects on Pandemic, Looks Ahead to Summer

BYU-Idaho Radio · Theater Owner Reflects on Pandemic, Looks Ahead to Summer

To say the last year has been rough for the movie theater industry is an understatement. With blockbuster movies far and few between because of the pandemic, theaters are limping along and working hard to stay afloat. But it appears big movies are returning and with them, the crowds.

Vanessa Bratt owns Paramount 5 and Teton Vu Drive-In theaters in Rexburg with her brothers. They’ve managed to keep their doors open with some creativity and optimism. However, this last weekend when 60 mph winds swept into Rexburg, they had a bit of a setback. The drive-in screen lost some panels.

Bratt said the damage happened hours before they were going to show any movies, so nobody was hurt. But it may be a week or two before they reopen. But here’s the thing, they will reopen.

When COVID-19 shut down businesses in 2020 the theaters were closed for a couple of weeks, Bratt said. But they started to get creative. First, offering curbside pickup for movie theater popcorn and other treats. Then, as the state allowed, they started to book private showings in the theaters and eventually some events at the drive-in such as graduations and concerts. Paramount 5 also became a first-run theater, at least when new movies actually came out like “Tenet” and “Chaos Walking.” Now that they’re open, they hope people will return.

“People got out of the habit of even looking for movies,” Bratt said. “We’re still seeing a lot fewer people in the theaters than we’re accustomed to at this time of the year.”

Of course, it wasn’t just the theaters hit hard during the pandemic. Movie companies have had to adapt by delaying movie releases or releasing the movies straight to streaming services. Disney, Warner Bros. and others are trying to figure out their best bets to give people entertainment and still make money. But that leaves theaters in a kind of limbo.

“It’s like a slap in the face, that movie theaters have been supporting the movie companies for years and all of a sudden they’re like, ‘we don’t need you anymore,’” Bratt said.

Bratt said she realizes the movie industry is just trying to survive too, but she believes there will no longer be a buffer of time between a movie being released into theaters and it moving to streaming services or to DVD. Bratt said there is no discount movie market anymore. She worries the business will stick with simultaneous releases to theaters and streaming services.

“It’s hard to prepare for the future when we don’t know what that will hold,” she said.

Still, Bratt is optimistic about what the future has in store. This summer there are several long-awaited blockbuster movies slated to release. She hopes that will bring customers back to their doors in larger numbers.

“I hear a lot of people talk about how they just can’t wait for the theaters to reopen because they miss it. It’s this going out experience, this getting out of the house that people are really craving and it is one of the big go-tos when you want to get out of the house,” Bratt said. “They will be back and as more movies come out, they will come.”