Michael Tawney, the general manager of Park Place Stadium Cinemas, had a grim task on Monday: clearing the list of movies that would be playing right now — if the theater was open — from the two-story sign overlooking Washington Street in Charleston.
“I’m getting a lot of phone calls every day, from people wanting to know if we’re still open,” he said.
“We haven’t been open since [last] Wednesday,” when Gov. Jim Justice limited restaurants to drive-thru or takeout and ordered casinos to close, he added.
He finally decided to take down the movie titles so people wouldn’t be confused.
“I have my regulars, and not seeing those people and being able to provide for them” is tough, he said. “This is a pretty good service to get your head out of those spaces sometimes, and not to be able to provide to those people is disheartening.“
Park Place is among more than 5,000 movie theaters that have shuttered nationwide as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Marquee Cinemas at Southridge Center had no show times listed. Regal Theater in Nitro had an online “temporarily closed” notice, and its website said all Regal theaters nationwide would remain closed until further notice.
Teays Valley Cinemas in Scott Depot had been open, according to a worker who answered the phone there Monday.
“We’re open today, not sure about tomorrow,” said Maddie Boster, adding that they had “not really” been busy.
Efforts to contact someone in management at the Teays Valley theater were not immediately successful. Justice ordered all places of public amusement, including movie and other theaters, to close no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday in his stay-at-home order, issued Monday.
Greg Pauley, vice president of the Greater Huntington Theater Company which owns Park Place and two other cinemas in West Virginia, said when last week’s order from Justice came down, it wasn’t clear if movie theaters were included.
“So we contacted the [Kanawha-Charleston] Health Department to get clarification and were told we would have to close,” he said.
From a purely practical standpoint, though, they probably would’ve had to close either way, he said: They didn’t have any new movies to show.
“They’re not going to release new movies right now,” Pauley said. “All the films we were playing this past week, they’re now being shown on the digital platforms.”
And many new movies scheduled for release will be available directly to consumers at home through paid Video On Demand services. Most, according to an interview in The Hollywood Reporter with John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners, will still be released in theaters once those businesses have re-opened.
“We’re movie theaters. We show movies to people in person, and people enjoy that experience. They like getting out of the house for a night at the movies,” Pauley said. “We’re in the same position as a lot of businesses. We’ve been operating since the 1920s. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s tough and kind of scary, but we’re determined to reopen.”