San Francisco Movie Theaters to Remain Closed Due to Ban on Concessions

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San Francisco Movie Theaters to Remain Closed Due to Ban on Concessions

NATO says it is “economically impossible” to reopen without them

While San Francisco Mayor London Breed has allowed movie theaters in the county to reopen without selling concessions, theater owners say they will remain closed because that makes reopening “economically impossible.”

The California/Nevada branch of the National Association of Theater Owners said in a statement on Wednesday that its members unanimously agreed to remain closed in San Francisco, saying that selling popcorn and other concessions is key for theaters to turn a profit. (While theaters split box office revenue roughly evenly with studios, they make an estimated 80% profit on popcorn, food and beverage sales.)

NATO also criticized a perceived double standard for theaters as the city has allowed indoor dining at restaurants. “While we respect and thank Mayor Breed for her decision to allow movie theaters to reopen, the restrictions in place present an insurmountable financial challenge for our members to do so and are preventing thousands of workers from returning to work,” said Milton Moritz, president and CEO of NATO of CA/NV. “Our members have taken the steps to meet or exceed expert-backed health and safety measures, and we ask that the city reconsider its reopening plan so our theaters can, once again, serve our San Francisco community.”

San Francisco has progressed to the third of four reopening tiers in California’s COVID-19 reopening plan, which would allow theaters to raise the capacity limit of its auditoriums to 50%. The surrounding Bay Area counties, as well as Orange and San Diego Counties in Southern California, are currently on the second tier, which limits theater capacity to 25%. Los Angeles County, which combined with New York City can account for up to 20% of a film’s domestic box office, is still on the lowest tier and has theaters closed aside from drive-ins.

While 70% of U.S. movie theaters were able to reopen last month, September box office grosses fell 90% year-over-year, among the highest drops for major box office markets that have reopened since the start of the pandemic. Following MGM’s decision to move “No Time to Die” to 2021, Regal Cinemas announced that it would indefinitely close all its locations this Thursday, though fellow national chains AMC and Cinemark say they will stay open in areas where health officials permit.

Jeremy Fuster