No new movies coming out of Hollywood, Plaza showing classics at classic prices
by Danny Wade
COVID-19 has played havoc on businesses. Some were forced to close their doors. Others were open but not allowing the public inside.
One local business among those hit the hardest was Humboldt Plaza 3. Owners Jason Tubbs and Michael Longmire were forced to close their doors.
But now, restrictions have been lifted and the historic movie theater in downtown Humboldt is once again open but on a limited basis. Their first day back was May 29. The theater closed in late March for seven weeks.
Under Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s executive orders, movie theaters were allowed to reopen but only at 50-percent capacity.
During the shutdown, Longmire and Tubbs did some soul-searching when the state shutdown, except for essential businesses. Movie theaters were not considered essential.
“We were very concerned,” Tubbs said of their predicament. “A lot of things run through your mind. Of course we wanted to provide for our employees. We also have to pay the bills. It makes you worry.”
“On March 23rd, Jason and I made the hard decision to close for the safety of our staff and patrons as the pandemic seemed to be growing in numbers,” Longmire said. “We studied over the next week to decide what, if anything, the theater could do to keep some form of income during the closure.”
With a staff 15 or so, these entrepreneurs were extremely concerned about how they will make ends meet. They had to do some creative thinking. They came up with a plan that allowed all staffers to keep working, although at a minimized schedule. The Plaza kept their concession stand open during the shutdown, which allowed for staff to get in a few hours per week.
“The idea was passed along to us from other theaters to offer concessions to-go or curbside concessions,” Longmire said of their plan. “We took the idea and transformed it into a business model at our theater that we could manage and still maintain some of our employees while keeping them isolated from the public. Jason, CaRae (Jason’s wife), Holly (Mike’s wife) and myself became the Humboldt Plaza 3 car hops.”
The doors remained locked, but people could place orders by phone or by ordering at the ticket booth. They asked their web designer to create an ecommerce side of the website to offer the concession menu online. Customers were able to pay online via PayPal, Venmo or pay at pickup. Customers could order online and set a pickup time. Popcorn, candy, hotdogs, burgers, nachos and drinks were available for the public. After an order was placed and filled, the carhops would meet the customer outside under the marquee or deliver them to their vehicles.
“We offered concession Friday and Saturday, 5 to 8 p.m. and Sunday 3 to 6 p.m.” Tubbs noted. “It went real well. It started to slow a little when restaurants started to open.”
Granted, the staff did not get their normal hours per week but it did give them some type of cash flow. With 15 employees, each “concession” shift would have six or seven staff on the clock. Some worked the concessions while others delivered to those who placed orders. Most of the staff are teenagers, still in school. Tubbs noted this gave them money to pay their phone bills, put gas in their cars and have some spending money.
“Honestly, we didn’t know how the response would be at first but we were very humbled by the support of our regular patrons and new customers throughout the seven weeks of shutdown offering the online concessions to go,” Longmire added.
Now that the theater has reopened, once again the duo had to come up with even more creative thinking. Operating at 50-percent capacity, every other row in the theaters is roped off, which allows for social distancing. This was an easy decision to make in order to reopen.
“On a good night, we would have 150 to 200 people,” Tubbs said of how things were prior to the pandemic. “Now a good night is 50 people.”
When big block-buster movies first come out, ticket sales were more than 200 and sometimes the same movie might show in more than one theater to accommodate the crowd.
Reopening was no piece of cake for Humboldt Plaza 3. They are fighting another hurdle—Hollywood. The hard part was getting movies to show. When COVID hit, movie studios shutdown, as did movie distributors. Movies that were ready to be released were put on hold. Some movie companies made hard decisions and completely bypassed running some movies in theaters and went straight to online streaming instead.
Not to be held down further, Tubbs and Longmire decided to show older titles, since there aren’t any newly released movies. They’ve also gone back in time, not only with movie selections but with pricing as well.
“We have themed our reopening as “Classic Movies at Classic Prices” with matiness being $3 and primetime movies set at $5,” said Longmire.
“Those were our prices when we first opened in 2007,” Tubbs added.
A survey via Facebook was posted to determine what patrons wanted to see. Their first weekend with “Smokey and the Bandit” as it was our surveys’ top movie requested. Others titles followed, including the original “Jaws”, which Tubbs and Longmire said had a good attendance during its time on the screen.
The older titles are neat to watch on the big screen, particularly for the younger generations that know of them but never watched them, or for the movie fans that loved them and want to see them again on the big screen.
“Unfortunately, as we move into July, we are not seeing a lot of hope for new product early in the month as we had hoped for,” said Longmire. “Hopefully, this plan can keep the hometown theater operating, offering an attractive product to the public while keeping employees employed.”
“Our philosophy has always been to offer family entertainment at reasonable prices,” Tubbs noted. “We want to make sure a family of four can come see a movie, enjoy concessions and not break the bank.”
With COVID number continuing to rise in California, the ability to make new movies or distribute movies ready for release, there is still an uncertainty when things will get back to normal. But the Plaza staff are optimistic that things will get back to normal soon.
“We are looking forward to new product and a swift return to our patrons, and the theater back to a full capacity theater,” Longmire said.