How this independent movie theater reopened for in-person screenings
Share Now on:
Thanksgiving weekend is typically one of the biggest moviegoing weekends of the year. For the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee, this Thanksgiving marked its first holiday weekend since reopening for indoor, in-person screenings earlier this month.
The Belcourt’s executive director, Stephanie Silverman, is among the 10 people Marketplace is following in our series “The United States of Work.” She talked with host Kai Ryssdal about how the Belcourt reopened and how it’s getting by. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: First of all, before we get to the Marketplace of this, how are you doing?
Stephanie Silverman: You know, hanging in. We had a lovely Thanksgiving, although we were supposed to go visit all our older kids in Chicago and had to cancel that and hunker down at home. But all in all, OK.
Ryssdal: Yeah, I get it. How’s the mood at the business? I mean, you’re open, but it’s not easy.
Silverman: Right. It’s slow for sure, but, you know, I guess there’s a certain sense of optimism just that we feel like we figured out how to do this safely, right? The way to open, the way to keep patrons apart from each other yet together in a space watching a movie. [But] with [coronavirus infection] numbers going up and still these conversations around whether or not you should wear a mask, it just complicates the ability to do things safely and still inspire enough confidence in audiences.
Ryssdal: So let’s talk about the logistics of this first of all. How many people does the Belcourt Theatre fit in normal times? What’s capacity?
Silverman: Well, our largest seats 332 people, the second space seats 255, so both quite large, especially for movie theaters. And in both of them, the maximum number of people we’re seating is 56. So that’s like 17% of the capacity of the largest hall and 22 of the next one down. So I mean, it’s a tiny capacity. But I took my son to see a movie and it still felt like you were watching a movie with people, which is really the defining part of the theater experience, being in community with people.
Ryssdal: Yeah, I imagine you’re not turning them around. You know, you get on the multiplex and as soon as you walk out, there’s a whole crew there waiting to come in and clean and turning it around for 15 minutes later. I’m sure that’s not happening at the Belcourt, right?
Silverman: That is not. We are taking a full hour between each screening to really get that hall sanitized. We’re trying to really calm down, right, to like, to not follow all the normal movie theater operating rules and just go slow and carefully so that we really know we’re checking off all the boxes.
Ryssdal: One of the normal movie theater operating rules, though, is that you got to make money doing this. Are you making money doing this?
Silverman: Well, so not by ticket sales alone, for sure. You know, we sold, you know, north of 300 tickets over the holiday weekend, and I just looked at what we sold the year before. And it was north of 1,700 tickets. So the lucky thing for the Belcourt is that we’re a nonprofit and so during this whole period, we’ve had to sort of turn our model around and lean more on philanthropy than on earned income. But you know, we’re able to do this because we have members who keep donating. We got a big gift from Amazon, which has helped just keep us operating. It’s been these kind of —
Ryssdal: Amazon Amazon?
Silverman: Yeah, Amazon Amazon. You know, they’re building a big distribution center here in Nashville, and they have sort of stepped up in the corporate philanthropy world here in the city. They helped us with our safety precautions — you know, those kinds of things that the corporate community has stepped in to help us, frankly, where the federal government has not. [That] has allowed us to have our doors open because it is not based on popcorn and ticket sales alone.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?
This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.
Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?
India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.
Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?
As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.
We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.
Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.
In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.
Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.
Give today and get our limited edition tote.