The silver screens at theaters across Kitsap darkened weeks ago. Employees have been laid off, the wafting smells of popcorn have faded, releases have been delayed as coronavirus restrictions tightened. Netflix is your best bet for entertainment these days.
Jeff Brein, the managing partner of Far Away Entertainment, which operates several theaters around Puget Sound, including Bainbridge Cinemas and the Lynwood Theatre on Bainbridge Island, and the Roxy Theatre in Bremerton, notes that there is, of course, no take-out option for a movie theater.
For now, he’s relegated to keeping in touch with creditors, applying for funding lines and trying to plan for what’s ahead as COVID-19 subsides. Entertainment venues will have to wait for Phase 3 of the state’s reopening, potentially still weeks off.
“We’re just sitting here waiting, watching TV like everybody else, waiting to hear what (Gov. Jay Inslee) says,” Brein said.
Even as entertainment venues beef up their cleaning procedures and put new safety policies in place, they can only do so much. The experience entertainment industry relies on its customers being comfortable with being around other people for extended periods of time, and as venues eventually reopen, they’ll have to grapple with the challenge of drawing consumers back out of their homes after weeks of being told to stay home and avoid gatherings for fear of passing along the virus.
The Suquamish Tribe’s Clearwater Casino Resort, Kitsap’s first large entertainment venue to reopen after widespread coronavirus closures, welcomed back guests on May 18, offering a picture for what’s ahead for recreation and amusement venues like movie theaters, playhouses and others in the days ahead.
The facility opened its doors with Port Madison Enterprises, the tribe’s economic development arm, saying the property would allow a limited number of visitors inside and only if those guests were from select nearby counties. Guests would have to wear masks and maintain distances between themselves and other players. Limited dining options would be available for small groups and individuals.
More: Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort reopens after weeks of COVID-19 closure
Port Madison Enterprises CEO Rion Ramirez said the first few days since the reopening have gone smoothly and that while business has been steady, it hasn’t been over-the-top busy.
“I think it’s going to be a gradual thing,” he said of visitors coming back to the facility, “but I think the new norm is going to be a little bit different in terms of how we all approach things and how we are all paying attention to social distancing and how we are all working to get back to a responsible way of doing things in this new era. It’s going to be something that continues to evolve, but at the end of the day, I think ultimately, it’s going to be a little bit different than it was previously.”
Officials at Kitsap’s other tribal gaming venue, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s The Point Casino, announced this week that it would reopen on June 1 with similar restrictions, along with an ongoing COVID-19 testing program for employees.
Delinda and Ed Hernandez opened their new trampoline park DEFY Silverdale in November last year. With no other similar venues in Kitsap, business was strong. Then the realities of the outbreak became clear and visits began to slow before coming to a halt completely in mid-March.
The business refunded birthday parties that had been scheduled and put memberships on hold. Even while they weren’t paying anything, about 75% of the location’s members canceled their plans.
“All of what we did to build our business to start with as we opened … it’s like we’re starting over,” Delinda said.
Previously, the park allowed a maximum of 170 people on its floor at a time, but when it reopens, that number will be 50, Delinda said. The park will also implement procedures like designated routes for people to follow, increased sanitization and mask requirements for employees, she said.
“I don’t know if there will ever be a time in our life now where we won’t keep up these types of sanitizing processes,” she said. “In general, life has changed. Those processes will become the norm, and I don’t see that changing at all.”
More: Trampoline and ‘extreme air sports’ park coming to Silverdale
In a statement, Admiral Theatre Foundation Executive Director Brian Johnson said the Bremerton venue will most likely use concepts like distancing, protective equipment, new entrance and exit procedures, and changes to routing for patrons in some fashion.
“How we reopen will of course be different,” he said, “but we look forward to continuing to provide Kitsap’s best live entertainment when it’s safe to do so.”
Brein, with Far Away Entertainment, said he’s optimistic about reopening theaters and feels that the shared movie experience will draw people back. But when? And what will he have to show once he’s allowed to open?
He recognizes that the virus offers many unknowns too: What if another wave rises up later in the year and theaters are forced to close again, meaning they’ll miss out on high revenue periods and holiday movie-going?
He knows things will look different when theaters reopen. Changes he’s looking at include reduced capacities, temperature checks and masks for employees, more careful cleaning of auditoriums and staggered showtimes so audiences don’t cross paths, he said. Theaters might designate showings for senior or child audiences too.
“If someone walks in and gets the feeling that we don’t care, if employees aren’t masked, we’re not cleaning, we’re not doing social distancing, they’re not going to come back,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge enough to get folks out of their house to come here initially, if they’re disappointed and not comfortable, they’re not going to come back.”
When do you think you’ll be comfortable with going out to a movie showing or seeing an artist in concert again? Write to reporter Nathan Pilling with your thoughts on resuming this part of your life during the coronavirus outbreak.
Nathan Pilling is a reporter covering Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap and Washington State Ferries for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-5242, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @KSNatePilling.
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