The show must go on but for business owners in Gilbert Town Square, there is uncertainty about their survival in the wake of Regal Gilbert Cinema’s closure.
The movie house closed Oct. 8, and the clow of customers into the strip mall has been felt by its neighboring businesses.
Regal Gilbert Cinemas is one of 536 multiplexes in the country that were closed temporarily by U.S. Cineworld Group Plc., the nation’s second-largest movie house chain, because of the pandemic.
“In response to an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape and sustained key market closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Regal will be temporarily suspending operations at all of its Regal theaters in the U.S.,” the company announced.
Since the pandemic began, life has been rough for movie houses in Arizona and around the world.
Arizona was one of many states that joined countries around the world in ordering them closed for several months.
And when they reopened, it was under regulations that enforced social distancing, cutting audience capacity by as much as half and forcing theaters to reduce showtimes to allow for sanitizing between showings.
Worse, theaters haven’t had much to show.
Spring and summer blockbusters were moved by distributors to fall, then their release was pushed again into next year – depriving local theaters like Regal Gilbert Cinema of yet another profitable time of the year, the Thanksgiving-New Year’s Day season.
Regal Gilbert Cinema’s closure was a blow to local businesses that relied on customer traffic it brought to the strip mall.
While it reopened, the theater continued to pull potential customers to the area, Chef W, co-owner of Not Your Typical Deli, said.
“I think it’s a total blow for the neighborhood,” Chef W said.
According to Alysen Lukacik, one of four owners of International Room Escape Az, the area was already seeing less business due to COVID-19 when the theater suddenly shut down.
“At the beginning, it was kind of like a shock for us,” Lukacik said. “I don’t know if it is because of COVID or if it is because the theater is closed but it is definitely not what it used to be.”
The theater’s closure is one more worry for business owners in Town Square, he added.
“You don’t know what's going to happen, you have that feeling of, not sure of what's going on with the world, and you are not sure of what's going on with my business and how people are going to react to that,” Lukacik said.
According to Lukacik, the Town Square was always busy before the pandemic hit.
“The plaza was always busy and just seeing that transformation of the plaza being empty for the whole day, it was kind of interesting,” Lukacik said.
Other businesses in the strip mall agree.
“We’ve definitely been hurt,” said John Decker, a co-owner of Desert Monks Brewing Co.
According to Decker, movies showing on Fridays and Saturdays drew people to the area that wouldn’t otherwise drive by.
“You would know when a big movie would come in,” Decker said, explaining that the increased traffic was noticeable and welcomed.
Now, business has slowed even more without those movie house patrons, he said.
“That’s kind of bad for us because a lot of walk-ins that we had came because of the movies because they saw our sign in the area,” Lukacik said.
Lukacik reported that about 22 percent of his escape room guests came in because of the theater.
“You definitely see less traffic,” Decker said.
Now, according to Chef W., Christ Church is the only establishment that brings in fresh crowds regularly since the theater closed.
The church holds Services Sunday mornings and remains open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Pam DePalma, co-owner of Not Your Typical Deli, said that before the theater closed, his business’ hours were scheduled alongside that of the theaters.
With the theater gone, Not Your Typical Deli has had to change hours to accommodate for lack of traffic.
“It's been bad. And even worse since the movie theater closed. We had to change our hours,” DePalma said.
Lack of customer traffic due to the closure of Regal Gilbert and the ongoing pandemic has left business owners with no choice but to adjust to customer needs.
Businesses are offering new delivery services, seasonal coupons and trying methods to become more accessible to customers.
The International Room Escape Az is offering a 15 percent discount for the holiday season.
“We got a canning machine,” Decker said, explaining that Desert Monks Brewing’s machine can meet higher demands for to-go orders.
“We have evolved in many ways. We are in the process of acquiring a food truck,” Chef W. said, adding that he is trying to make Not Your Typical Deli more accessible to customers.
When things change for Regal or any other multiplex is hard to say.
In announcing its nationwide closure – which put 40,000 employees out of a job – Cineworld said, “We have done to date, we will do everything we can to save livelihoods and the company – this is an extremely delicate and tricky balance. We continue to work with the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), to ensure we are lobbying state and local governments to support our employees and the industry which has so much cultural significance.”
The world’s largest movie chain, AMC, and Harkins Theaters are offering theaters for private showings, but new movies are still far and in between.
According to the Variety Magazine, John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said that unless Congress passes the Save Our Stages Act – a bipartisan push to support decimated concert venues and theaters – “probably around 70 percent of our mid- and small-sized members will either confront bankruptcy reorganization or the likelihood of going out of business entirely by sometime in January.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that some multiplex owners are wondering whether to convert their buildings, although most are “poor candidates for adaptive reuse,” Bloomberg reported.
Some are simply being torn down – as was, ironically, a Regal theater in South Carolina.
A theater in Goodyear was turned into a group of medical offices while the Arizona Department of Transportation now has offices in a theater in Flagstaff, Bloomberg reported.
Cineworld said in its announcement said that “once film studios are able to bring their pipeline of major movie releases back to the big screen” things would change, although it alluded to the “extremely delicate and tricky balance” it faces in operating theaters in the pandemic.
DePalma said the only hope of increasing traffic to Gilbert Town Square again would be if Regal Theater reopens soon – or someone else takes over.
“The only hope would be if somebody bought the theater out,” DePalma said.