May 8 2021
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Previous story Oregon movie theaters WILL SOON weigh virus, viability in reopening Next story

Story by Kate Davidson (OPB) - Story Source
Published on Sunday February 28, 2021 - 8:28 PM

When Drew Kaza heard recently that Oregon had reversed its ban on eating and drinking inside movie theaters, he rejoiced.

"In a word, hallelujah," he laughed.

The change brought him one step closer to reopening his four-screen theater in Central Oregon, the Sisters Movie House.

"It's the concessions that really allow us to be an operating, profitable business," he said.

As the risk of getting COVID-19 decreased around the state in February, 20 counties shed their "extreme risk" designations. That allows most of Oregon's movie theaters to reopen, with limits — the smaller of 25% occupancy or 50 people in "high risk" counties, and 50% occupancy or 100 people in "moderate risk" counties.

Some movie houses, such as Portland's Living Room Theaters, have already opened their doors or soon plan to. But other theaters have pumped the brakes, still concerned about the spread of COVID-19, or about the economic viability of opening now, or both.

The state's ban on eating and drinking inside theaters, regardless of county risk level, was one financial obstacle. That's because theaters pocket far more of the money spent on popcorn and drinks than on movie tickets. Roughly half the cost of each ticket goes back to movie distributors — and even more if a film is a blockbuster.

So, Oregon's decision to allow concessions in all but "extreme risk" counties is big for cinema owners. The updated guidance requires moviegoers to put their masks back on during pauses in eating or drinking. Theaters selling concessions inside are also required to ensure adequate ventilation, with a recommended three to six air changes per hour.

But even though the Sisters Movie House has been closed for almost one year, Kaza is not reopening yet. He'd like to see more people allowed in the seats and more films in the pipeline.

When asked to describe the currently available movies in one word, he instead responded with three:

"Old and small."

"We have to have something to sell' The Sandy Cinema is the only movie theater in Sandy.

For a few hours, every Friday and Saturday, the theater sells concessions to go from its main ticket window. Popcorn and soda sales bring in a little money to pay for utilities while the building stands empty.

Even though Clackamas County's COVID-19 risk levels fell from "extreme" to "high" to "moderate" in February, theater owner Elie Kassab plans to stay shut for now. He's wary of the coronavirus and its variants, and he doesn't think he can make money from the films currently in distribution.