Surrey’s movie theatres have reopened after one long winter/spring in the dark.
The lights are on again at the family-operated Hollywood 3 in Newton and Caprice in South Surrey, as well as Cineplex Cinemas Strawberry Hill and Landmark Cinemas Guildford, in line with B.C.’s relaxed pandemic restrictions Tuesday (June 15).
All movies theatres in the province were ordered closed last November, meaning many months of no business for both independent operators and chains.
“Very little was available to us movie theatre operators, as grants, and we have been one of the hardest-hit industries —more than most,” said Rahim Manji, whose family operates the Hollywood 3 chain.
“We’re open, we’re back and we’re safe,” he added. “We just need to get the word out there.”
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) June 15, 2021
Manji’s Hollywood 3 Cinema in Newton screens second-run movies, while his Caprice shows first-run titles such as Cruella, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway and A Quiet Place Part II.
Such new movies and others are screened at the Landmark and Cineplex theatres in Surrey.
Mike Ens has general-managed the Strawberry Hill cinema since February 2020.
“I had about about a month of normalcy here before COVID,” Ens said with a laugh. “We closed mid-March 2020, then had a few months of complete closure, reopened in early July, then closed again at the end of November, due to restrictions. So it’s about seven months closed during the recent one, and the first closure was about three months.”
Ens said patrons will notice new safety protocols and procedures at Strawberry Hill, in order to make people “feel as safe and comfortable as possible,” including enhanced cleaning.
“You’ll see a lot of staff members cleaning and wiping things down more than you would before, touch points and areas like that, and contact tracing for those who enter the building,” Ens said. “It will look different for patrons than it would two years ago, for sure.”
With theatre auditoriums capped at 50 people per movie, a new ticket system is in place.
“No groups of unfamiliar people will be able to be seated next to each other, and that’s done through ticketing,” Ens explained. “When you purchase a ticket there’s an implementation in the system where all the surrounding seats around the one you purchased now become unavailable to future ticket-buyers. We’ve had assigned seating at this location even pre-pandemic, back when we installed our recliner seats, so for us that’s not new, but this blocking off is.”
At the Hollywood 3, Manji said the 50-max capacity won’t be profitable.
“But we need to get open and remind people that we’re here,” he underlined. “It’s still restricted because of the government regulations, but we have bills that will probably take us two years to pay. The landlords have been helping us here, and in South Surrey (at the Caprice). Unfortunately the Rialto wasn’t the same situation so we ended up closing there (last September).”
Out of the gate this week, the Hollywood 3 is showing Croods: A New Age, Tom & Jerry, Nobody and Wonder Woman 1984.
“With our second-runs it’s hard, it’s tough, because we’re still in the same zone as Cineplex, but with all the streaming stuff going on and just 50 people allowed, movies will actually come a lot quicker,” Manji said. “Within two weeks of release, they’ll probably be here, it just depends on how big the movie is and how many screens it’s playing. Something like Fast and Furious that’s coming out next, that’ll probably play on eight screens (in first-run theatres), to get the numbers through the door.”
Last summer, Manji said people were “afraid” of coming to see a movie, but now the mood seems to have changed.
“We were having days of just two or three people in the theatre, and three or four staff,” he recalled. “So, movie theatres that did open last summer lost money. It would have been better had we stayed closed, but last June we were the first theatre to reopen in Canada and we wanted to show movies. We want to be open and have movies, give people something to do.
“I think right now it feels different than last June, it just does,” Manji added. “I’m a lot more optimistic, with more people calling, more people out and getting vaccinated, so I think the comfort level is a lot better. We will still keep all the safety precautions, exactly the same.”
Ens sees a run of potential blockbuster titles coming to Strawberry Hill.
“Last year there was some difficulties getting new titles, as studios were hesitant to release new product out into the world when a lot of theatres were closed across the world,” he explained. “But that’s actually beneficial to us this year, because all of last year’s product will be released this year, beside most of the films that were slated for release this year anyway. So really there’s no shortage of good new products coming into the last half of 2021 here.”
A Marvel fan, Ens is excited about Black Window coming out later this year, and also new horror titles such as The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
During the recent dark period, Ens said management and staff kept the Strawberry Hill theatre “clean and ready to go” for the day gathering restrictions were lifted.
“We were ready at all times,” he said.
“But the other side, we were operating a lot of Skip the Dishes and Uber Eats, delivery services, and that business actually took off for us over the past year and a half,” Ens added. “People can order popcorn, drinks and candy, and we package that up for delivery. It’s a big surprise to a lot of people that we do that. Despite the doors being open or not, people still want to get their movie-theatre popcorn hot and fresh, so we’re happy to get that to them.”
Private Movie Nights is another Cineplex initiative created during the pandemic, with screenings for 20 people priced at $125 per movie.
“People can book an entire auditorium for them, their friends and family, for a private screening of a movie of their choice, if they’re uncomfortable with sharing the space with strangers,” Ens explained. “We’ve seen that business grow very well in provinces that have been open a bit longer than us here in B.C., so we’re excited to get the ball rolling on that as well.”