Vancouver’s Rio Theatre is hoping to reopen to customers in July with socially distanced screenings.
Corinne Lea, the theatre’s owner and operator, says she’s already been in touch with Vancouver Coastal Health and is hoping to be open again sometime after Canada Day.
In a cheeky video announcing the reopening posted to the theatre’s YouTube channel, a concession stand worker wearing a mask throws popcorn, soda and a packet of Junior mints at a customer standing six feet away.
“We’ve put a lot of work into trying to figure out how it’s going to work with the new social distancing restrictions,” Lea said. “Our video was just to have a bit of fun with it…and you know, just try to get the word out that we’re going to be coming back to entertain people.”
Lea says theatre-goers will need to leave two to three seats between each other, but people from the same pod or family will be allowed to sit together. Seats will be cleaned between each film, and bathrooms, door handles, and other high-touch surfaces will be sanitized regularly. Staff will wear masks, and customers will be strongly encouraged to wear them, especially in the lobby, washroom and lineup.
“The biggest challenge is, of course, our theatre was built in 1938 so the lobby is not very big, so we’ve come up with some creative ways that we could organize lineups and things like that so that people can have the space,” she said.
The concession stand will have its full menu available, which includes popcorn, candy and grilled cheese sandwiches.
When it comes to what films will be shown at first, Lea says it’s been tough finding new content as many films that were scheduled to come out have been bumped, and a lot of productions have been shut down during the pandemic.
“We will be turning to a lot of our cult classics. People’s all-time favourite films that they want to see up on the big screen,” she said. “We’re definitely going to put a focus in support of Black Lives Matter to show films made by Black artists, directors, or films that address the issues of racism.”
Prior to the COVID pandemic, the theatre had never needed to shut down before and Lea says the week they decided to close was difficult and emotional since they had fought very hard in the past to keep the Rio open.
She says she’s grateful to be her own landlord since she’s been able to benefit from the six-month mortgage deferral, but she has concerns over the 50-person capacity limit for events.
“There isn’t a venue across this country that can survive with only 50 customers,” Lea said, adding that equals about 12 per cent of her capacity. She hopes the government will eventually raise the limit to 100 people.
“Nobody is expecting to make a profit during this time, but we don’t want to be in a position where we can’t stay in business,” she said. “So we’re just trying to keep afloat.”
Lea says she’s in touch with many other small business owners throughout the city who have reopened but are still concerned about whether or not they will survive. As a result, she says she has “mixed emotions” about the theatre opening its doors again.
“I know people who have hair salons, restaurants. And they’re all saying it’s not easy. They’re all saying that being open has its own challenges compared to being closed,” she said. “Either the business isn’t there because people aren’t coming or they can’t function at full capacity, or there’s just the stress of managing everything. You want to keep staff safe. You want to keep customers safe.”
Lea says the public health benefits of the economic shutdown have been evident in B.C. and that it’s in everyone’s best interest both health and business-wise that there are no setbacks during the pandemic. But she says she and the other small business owners are worried about what the future holds.
“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” she said. “It took me 12 years to build up this business into a very successful operation, and now I feel like I’m back to square one again. It’s a little defeating to say the least.” But she says her efforts will be focused on keeping the theatre open, despite the challenges the pandemic has created.
“My main focus is to make sure the Rio is going to still be standing by the end of this,” she said. “Even if I’m the last theatre standing. That’s my goal.”