Arizona’s reported cases of COVID-19 may be increasing and making headlines nationwide, but that isn’t stopping one Scottsdale movie theater from opening.
RoadHouse Cinemas opened on June 10, nearly a month after movie theaters were given permission by Gov. Doug Ducey to reopen on May 16.
Their first weekend back in operation didn’t go as General Manager Azra Bajraktarevic expected.
“We actually assumed that we were going to be very slow,” Bajraktarevic said, “but on Wednesday, when we opened, we were actually busier than we expected. This weekend, Friday through Sunday, we were super busy.”
Bajraktarevic estimates the theater, which is running at half capacity, saw about 1,200 guests throughout the weekend.
For comparison, she added, a normal Saturday usually sees about 1,300 guests.
“We’ve been getting a lot of positives from the guests who’ve been coming in,” Bajraktarevic said.”
“We had people who’ve been coming to RoadHouse since day one and just thanking us for being open [because] they’ve been cooped up at home for two months. Then, we’ve had guests who’ve never been to RoadHouse, and they heard on the news that we’re the only theater in the Valley that’s open,” she said.
Bajraktarevic said RoadHouse opened when it did because they wanted to work through the kinks before new releases hit theaters and figure out what their “new normal” is.
“A lot of businesses opened before us, and we’ve noticed that they’re struggling with the new normal,” she explained. “We want to make sure that if we have any hiccups, that we don’t make them [mistakes] once we have our blockbuster movies come out.”
RoadHouse was one of the more than 700 movie theaters across the country that were open as of last week, according to Comscore.
Texas has the most locations open with 45.
In the Valley, however, RoadHouse is the only reopened theater – for now, at least.
AMC said they expect to open most of their theaters worldwide in July.
According to Harkins Theaters’ website, the Scottsdale-based theater chain expects to open their theaters a couple of weeks in advance of the release of blockbusters such as Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” and “Wonder Woman 1984” and Disney’s “Mulan.”
“For our business to reopen, another necessary criteria is a reliable and continuous slate of great new theatrical films,” Harkins wrote.
Flix Brewhouse in Chandler also intends to reopen prior to the premiere of “Tenet.”
“Mulan” and “Tenet” are expected to hit theaters July 24 and July 31, respectively; but, according to Bajraktarevic, these dates could change.
On June 12, “The King of Staten Island” was supposed to show at RoadHouse Cinemas, but Universal abruptly pulled it from theaters around the country.
In response, RoadHouse staff spent a lot of time issuing refunds to guests.
“But none of the guests were mad because they knew it was the studio,” Bajraktarevic said. “We have a lot of guests who are trying to book birthday parties and events, and we’re telling them we can’t guarantee that these movies are going to come out because the studio can just pull them right from us.”
RoadHouse made many changes leading up to reopening, from a truncated menu and reduced prices and serving popcorn in plastic bags instead of bowls to new safety signage and stickers on the floor to encourage social distancing and more rigorous cleaning procedures, including sanitizing auditoriums after every screening.
Before even stepping foot into the theater, however, guests will notice one big change to the booking process: RoadHouse’s seat reservation system now automatically blocks two seats on both sides of guests’ selected seats.
These seats will serve as a social buffer.
“We don’t want to split a family, but we also want to make sure that we’re still practicing social distancing,” Bajraktarevic said.
“We’re trying to limit as much interaction with our guests as possible,” she continued. “Even buying tickets, we’re asking everyone to purchase tickets on our website. We’re not doing any cash transactions, either.”
While the entire RoadHouse staff is required to wear masks and gloves at all times, as well as get their temperature checked upon arrival, guests are not required to wear masks.
They are, however, encouraged to wear masks during entry and exit of the premises as well as continue to wear a mask until they’ve ordered food or drinks.
They can remove the mask to eat and drink, of course.
The theater’s hours of operation – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily – are different, too.
Despite the changes and challenges, Bajraktarevic said they’re happy to be back.
“We’re happy that we can help people get away and experience movie magic all over again,” she said.
Those not comfortable returning to movie theaters, however, can continue to pick up popcorn from RoadHouse Cinemas, which is also continuing to offer food to-go.
“We completely understand people are scared. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. So, if people are uncomfortable, we’re not asking them to come out by any means. They’ll come when they’re ready,” she added.