Theaters, Other Venues Can Start to Recoup Losses After State Eases COVID Restrictions

For the first time since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer imposed stay-at-home orders that shuttered all but essential companies in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Michigan is – finally – open for business.

And Paul Glantz, for one, couldn’t possibly be happier.

Glantz, co-founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment, figures his chain – with nine theaters in Michigan – has lost “in the low eight-figures” (more than $10 million) in revenue with the state-mandated closure.

So imagine his joy when Whitmer announced that movie theaters – and other performance venues – could reopen beginning Oct. 9.

We’re happy to be back to planning to do what we do — provide escapism and joy and happiness for our guests,” Glantz said. “Being deprived of that opportunity has been the worst part of the mandate.”

Whitmer on Friday signed Executive Order 202-183 allowing movie theaters and performance venues to reopen, with some COVID-19 safety and spacing restrictions in place. She also signed Executive Order 2020-185, requiring face coverings for Michigan’s K-5 students.

Whitmer said that, as a result of taking “some of the most aggressive action against COVID-19,” the health of Michigan families and its economy are “faring better than our neighbors in the country.”

“I know these business owners have made incredible sacrifices during this crisis to protect our families and frontline workers, and my administration will continue working to help them get back on their feet,” Whitmer said. “We are not out of the woods yet, and we will continue to monitor the effects of these incremental changes. Right now, the federal government and all 50 states have been under some form of state of emergency. We must stay the course and continue fighting this virus on behalf of our families, frontline workers, and our small businesses.”

Beginning Oct. 9, a number of previously closed businesses are slated to reopen statewide, including indoor theaters, cinemas, performance venues, arcades, bingo halls, bowling centers, indoor climbing facilities, trampoline parks, and more. 

Under Executive Order 2020-183:

  • Instead of being limited to 10 people, non-residential indoor gatherings and events now must limit attendance to 20 people per 1,000 square feet or 20 percent of fixed seating capacity, with a maximum of 500 people in Michigan’s largest venues. Non-residential indoor venues must require a face covering.
  • Instead of being limited to 100 people, non-residential outdoor gatherings and events now must limit attendance to 30 people per 1,000 square feet or 30 percent of fixed seating capacity, with a maximum of 1,000 people.
  • Regions 6 and 8 are subject to the same rules covered in the revised MI Safe Start order, except non-residential indoor venues may allow up to 25 people per 1,000 square feet or 25 percent of fixed seating capacity, with a maximum of 500 people in the regions’ largest venues. 

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Movie theaters and performance spaces had been closed since Whitmer issued her first stay-home orders back in March. Movie theaters in the Upper Peninsula and much of northern Michigan were allowed to reopen in June. Now, the rest of the state’s theaters will be lighting up their screens.

Officials at MJR Digital Cinemas, with 10 theaters and 169 screens in metro Detroit, said the chain will be ready to open Oct. 9. The chain will open with movies like the Robert Deniro film, “War With Grandpa,” along with “Tenet,” “New Mutants,” “Unhinged” and others.

“We have truly missed providing all of our loyal moviegoers with an escape into the world of movies, and could not be more excited to welcome them back,” MJR said in a statement. “We have spent these last six months developing new guidelines that have the absolute safety of our guests and staff in mind.”

Emagine’s Glantz said getting ready to reopen in less than two weeks will be a challenge, particularly with the safety protocols employees will have to learn before the chain reopens with “Tenet,” “War with Grandpa,” “New Mutants,” the Russell Crowe film “Unhinged” and others.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Glantz acknowledged. “We’ve got to bring back our work force, we’ve got to do training on the new protocols, and we’ve got some touch-up cleaning to do. There’s a lot to do in the next two weeks, but we’ll ready.”

Emagine has been running a drive-in screen at its theater in Novi, that slightly offset the loss of regular revenue. The drive-in was staffed by company general managers and senior leadership, and the cost, Glantz said, “was not substantial.”

“I call it putting a small bandage on a large wound,” he said. “It didn’t help us immensely, but every little bit helps.”

The movie industry obviously wasn’t the only one damaged by the state’s response to the pandemic. Weddings and funerals have been radically affected, and the governor’s order makes it easier for those industries to begin to recover.

Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, called Whitmer’s order a “step in the right direction.”

“We welcome the governor’s announcement today to increase capacity for meeting and banquet spaces and appreciate her willingness to listen to an industry that has been decimated since the onset of the pandemic,” Winslow said in a statement. “(The order gives) Michigan’s hospitality industry a better shot at remaining open and viable as the colder winter months approach.”

Whitmer’s office has been adamant that the state’s response to the pandemic has put a tremendous strain on the state’s economy. Whitmer and finance director Chris Kolb have both laid the blame for the state’s budget deficits (the governor and state Legislature just last week reached a deal that closed a $3.2 billion gap in the budget and fears of a similar deficit for 2022) squarely on the cost of the pandemic response.

Among those costs, they said back in May:

  • $25 million spent on hospitals.
  • $22.8 million to direct-care workers
  • $3.4 million on nursing homes
  • $251 million purchasing personal protection equipment
  • $8.5 billion to fund unemployment
  • $101 million for child care

The other order Whitmer signed Friday, Executive Order 2020-185, requires all students in grades kindergarten and up in regions 1-5 and 7 to wear a face covering in classrooms. Prior orders had recommended, but not required, a face covering for grades kindergarten through five.  

“With the 2020-2021 flu season approaching, we are in a precarious moment in our fight against COVID-19,” said Chief Medical Executive and MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “This new mask requirement is so important to protect students and educators, and to keep our schools open. This year, it’s more important than ever that Michiganders across the state get their flu vaccine as soon as possible, mask up, and maintain at least six feet of physical distancing. Let’s all be smart and stay safe.”