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Movie theater alters business model to stay afloat amid pandemic

Posted at 12:43 PM, Dec 18, 2020

OAKLAND, Ca. — You might have forgotten what it felt like to be in a theater that’s packed with people, watching a movie on a big screen.

Carlos Courtade remembers the connection.

“You came for the feeling, like you were part of something,” he said.

He remembers the energy that this pandemic has turned into emptiness inside his theater, The New Parkway, in Oakland, California.

Courtade is The New Parkway’s director of community outreach.

“We already, as an independent movie theater, pride ourselves on having some of the lowest ticket prices around town and also, at the same time, paying our employees the most out of a living wage, more than any other movie theater around, so already our margins are already really, really narrow,” Courtade said.

Courtade is familiar with the script that’s been written for theaters in 2020.

Hundreds of theaters have closed, and many will never show films again.

But The New Parkway is unique, and that’s easy to see when you look at its theaters. Instead of seats, there are couches, giving it more of a basement or living room type feel than a theater.

What’s also unique is what is keeping them in business.

“Unlike a lot of movie theaters around, we had the benefit of having a full-sized kitchen,” Courtade said.

The kitchen is a plot twist that’s keeping the lights on at a movie theater that hasn’t shown a movie in nine months.

The New Parkway’s staff prepare and package food it typically would serve in its theater but now sell it to customers who order online.

“For the most part, it’s been enabling us to keep our heads above water,” Courtade said.

The food helps pay the rent at a time when the movie-less theater is missing $180,000 a month in revenue.

But when you look around Oakland, like many cities, you can see why just being open is a win.

“I don’t think anyone knows what the impact is going to be long-term,” said Marcus Osborne, who started working as a manager at The New Parkway during the pandemic.

As coronavirus, social distancing, and isolation threaten movie theaters today, the threat of tomorrow for this industry beyond this pandemic, if you ask Osborne, is whether customers will ever fully come back.

“How are we going to continue to make movie theaters and other forms of entertainment important to people if they’ve found a way to live without it?” he asked.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say they wouldn’t come back to the theater even post-pandemic,” Courtade added.

The New Parkway says it won’t fully reopen until there is a vaccine readily available.

It's hard to predict the ending to this pandemic, but like a movie, there is a moral in the story of businesses like this one: finding a way through, no matter what.

“Sometimes you just have to think outside the box,” Courtade said. “Something that might not be obvious or clear right away shouldn’t prevent you from looking at things in a different point of view.”