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Curbside popcorn sales and private events aren't enough to keep this independent theater going. - Press "Enter" to skip to content

Curbside popcorn sales and private events aren’t enough to keep this independent theater going.

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The pandemic has brought national movie theater chains like AMC to the brink of bankruptcy. It has been just as unsparing with the 602 independently owned theaters in the United States, which are often in smaller communities, providing movies to communities sometimes ignored by the major chains.

Park Plaza Cinema in Hilton Head Island, S.C., is one such theater, and it has been decimated by the pandemic.

“We are an industry that is part of the fabric of America, and it’s going away,” said Lucie Mann, who owns and runs the theater with her husband, Larry.

The theater has established social-distancing protocols and installed new air filtration systems. It has tried initiatives like curbside popcorn sales. But the efforts have not been enough to offset the larger trends upending moviegoing, namely that many people still don’t seem inclined to return to theaters in large numbers and that Hollywood, with no audience to speak of, has pushed off most major releases until next year.

These days, Ms. Mann has been running private events, charging $250 to rent out a theater. On Saturday night, the local Italian-American Club hosted a private party where 10 people stopped in for a screening of “Moonstruck.” But last weekend when she booked Pixar’s “Coco” in an attempt to attract families, the seats remained empty.

Mr. Mann spends his days on the phone trying to resurrect a disaster loan from the Small Business Administration that keeps being denied. And he’s applying for a grant from the state. If aid doesn’t materialize — either in the form of federal funding, which looks unlikely given the political climate in Washington, or a decision from Hollywood studios to move some big movies back into 2020, which they said they would consider only if theaters reopened in New York and Los Angeles — the Manns figure they have about three weeks before they’ll be forced to close for good.


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