coronavirus pandemic

San Diego Movie Theaters Struggling to Survive

NBC 7 Responds looks at how the theater industry is holding out hope for a hero

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Movie theaters are a staple of entertainment, but the pandemic has forced them to close for months. While theaters of all sizes are hurting, local theaters say they don't know how much longer they can stay closed.

"Literally sales have plummeted close to 98%," said Adolfo Fastlicht, CEO of The Lot, a small theater group based in San Diego County. "How long can we go on like this? It's a question that for us is impossible to answer."

The Lot is a luxury movie theater, restaurant, bar and cafe and while they have begun to offer outdoor dining and some viewing options, Fastlicht says they are making in a few weeks what they used to make in a day.

"We're not in business because we can't operate," said Fastlicht. "We're just being forced not to operate."

Movie theaters often rely on the release of major films, such as Disney's Mulan, but the company announced it would instead be releasing the film online for $30. Fastlicht says they hoped that would be the movie to jump-start the industry.

"It's certainly a huge blow to everybody," said Fastlicht.

When San Diego county was starting to allow theaters to reopen, before being placed on the governor's watchlist because of the number of outbreaks across the county, theaters could only allow a few people inside.

"If a cinema is 100 seats, we would not be able to offer more than 25 seats in it," said Fastlicht. "A long term horizon at 25, even 50%, is not viable."

So now theaters are hoping for a stimulus package from the government. The Lot was able to receive some funding from the CARES Act and a PPP Loan, but says the entire film and movie industry needs help.

"There's no comparison to the big screen that you could ever replicate through streaming on your phone or even just your home television," said The Lot's Marketing Manager Kelsey Muma.

The National Association of Theater Owners has created a new campaign to try and rally support for local theaters. The #SaveYourCinema campaign is aimed at getting support from congress.

"Our local theaters employ over 150,000 people and have formed a cornerstone of the American experience for generations," reads the website. "Without swift action from Congress, our favorite theaters could close forever."

Theater owners know they provide an atmosphere that cannot be recreated at home.

"People have kitchens but still want to go out to dinner," said Fastlicht. "People want to go out. People want to be with other people. People want to have that experience, to smell the popcorn."

Contact Us