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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Laemmle’s eyes mid-April opening

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Laemmle’s Claremont 5, the city’s much loved jewel box movie theater that closed abruptly in March 2020, will soon reopen.

“We don’t have a specific date, but we started a process of bringing back our managers today,” Laemmle Theatres President Greg Laemmle told the COURIER on Monday. “Once they’re back, we’d like to think we’ll open early to mid-April.”

As of Monday, Los Angeles County movie theaters were allowed to open at 25 percent capacity, due to it moving from purple to red in the California’s tiered coronavirus risk level metric.

“We are only starting the process now, in large measure because after a year of closure, we had  to save the powder until we’re absolutely certain,” Mr. Laemmle said. “We sort of went down this road at some point last summer when it looked like we might be getting close to reopening but didn’t quite get there. We just really needed to be sure L.A. theaters were going to reopen, and under what terms, whether it was 25 percent or whatever.

“But now that we’ve got some clarity on that we’re bringing our staff back, and we’re making sure all the projectors turn back on and all the kind of stuff. But yes, it takes some time. And we want to be sure it’s done right.”

There will be some changes once the doors are open, but prices aren’t among them.

“I’ve thought about that,” Mr. Laemmle said. “I won’t pull it off the table, but at least starting back up, we really want to encourage people to get back into the theater, so we’re likely going to hold the prices where they are for right now.”

Laemmle Premiere Card and group activity discounts will continue as before, he added, and all gift cards are still valid.

The concession stand will once again be open. Patrons will be expected to wear masks in public areas like the lobby, concession stand and restrooms. Once seated they will be allowed to remove their masks in order to eat.

The five-screen theater will also have reserved seating. “That’s a requirement for the reopening process, and maybe something we should have investigated even before,” Mr. Laemmle said. “We just kind of personally liked moviegoing before when you could just sort of wander in and figure out where you liked sitting, and move around. But reserved seating is required so that we can ensure people are being distant.”

Among the pricier changes are upgrades to its HVAC system, with more complex filtration, and modified percentages of fresh versus recycled air.

“These are some things that have been done in other parts of the country and the world and have demonstrated that they really make moviegoing safer,” Mr. Laemmle said.

He said he was aware some large theater chains were opening this week, and that the planning at those locations had obviously been ongoing for weeks.

“Which is perfectly fine, and in hindsight maybe I wish I had as well, but we are where we are. We’re not going to rush. It’s coming.”

Rumors that the 450 W. Second St. location was in danger of closing had been circulating even before the pandemic. News leaked that the property was for sale; in fact, it’s still for sale. But that doesn’t mean the theater will close, even if it’s sold.

The Los Angeles-based art-house cinema chain, family owned since 1938, recently made “sale-leaseback” deals for its West L.A. and Pasadena locations, which helped raised much-needed capital. Mr. Laemmle said it’s possible it’s Claremont property may go the same route.

“It may happen,” he said. “But at this time we’re not in escrow and we’re not under contract on the property. I can’t pull it off the table. One of the things that’s kept us alive over here is that the family has been able to reposition some of the equity we have in ownership of these properties  toward supporting the operating company. And it may be necessary to keep that on for a bit.

“But the theater is going to reopen. It is hopefully going to stay open at least for several months so we can see where the public appetite is for moviegoing and what happens.”

Those pre-pandemic rumors turn out to have been based in fact.

“Our [Claremont] numbers were down from historical norms” before the pandemic, Mr. Laemmle said. “We follow trends in general for moviegoing, and we follow trends in our niche of foreign and independent and art films, but the numbers were off and we were wanting to try to dig into that and figure out what was going on, and of course we got shut down.”

Mr. Laemmle was reluctant to say definitively that the decision of whether or not to sell and lease back the Claremont location would hinge directly upon just how supportive City of Trees’ movie lovers are, but he did offer this:

“Any business is reliant on the support of the people who patronize the business,” he said. “We can all love that a business exists in our community, but if we don’t actually go out and put our dollars into the coffers, it’s not going to stay open very long.”

The company has shown it’s not averse to change. It was in discussions to sell the entire Laemmle chain in 2019.
“We ultimately pulled the plug on those discussions and decided that we wanted to stay in business and felt good about the future of moviegoing,” Mr. Laemmle said. “Oops!”

Self-deprecation or gallows humor aside, the family business is still running strong through the veins of the third generation Laemmle president.

“I still feel very strongly about the future of moviegoing,” Mr. Laemmle said. “There are certainly lots of discussions about how the public has reacted because of the pandemic, and video on demand, but I think ultimately the one thing is how much they appreciate being able to see a movie in a movie theater, and I’d like to think that on the near term people are going to return with a vengeance.”

The best place to check for updates on opening day is at https://www.laemmle.com/theater/claremont-5, or on its social media channels. “Right now it’s very indeterminate, other than we are getting started on the process of reopening,” Mr. Laemmle said. “But soon I hope to have something more definitive.”

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