Some suburban movie theaters reopen, while others hold off
Several suburban movie theaters reopened Friday with a mix of new and classic films after the Illinois Department of Public Health relaxed some COVID-19 health and safety mitigations.
AMC, for example, has reopened Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg, with more theaters to follow next Friday. Marcus Theatres has reopened its theaters in Addison, Elgin and Gurnee, and Studio Movie Grill reopened in Wheaton.
Meanwhile, a Cinemark spokesperson said select cinemas would be reopening Friday, Jan. 29, in Deer Park, North Aurora, West Dundee and Woodridge. Regal Entertainment Group did not return a request for information on that chain's reopening plans.
"Given what we've all been through in the past year, people seem anxious to return and safely go back to movie theaters," said Lynne McQuaker, the senior director of public relations and outreach for Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill.
Neal Gatlin, 17, of Elmhurst and his girlfriend, Alexis Burns, 17, made a point Friday of going to the Marcus Addison Cinema, the day it reopened. Last year the theater was closed from March until August and then again from November until now.
"I'm excited," Burns said. "Just wanted something fun to do."
Theaters are returning with restrictions. To allow for proper social distancing, AMC's website specifies that most theaters are operating at 40% capacity or less. The Marcus website states that masks are required except when eating or drinking.
It's essentially the same with more specialized eatery cinemas such as Hollywood Palms in Naperville, Hollywood Blvd. in Woodridge and Wheaton's Studio Movie Grill.
McQuaker touted many of Studio Movie Grill's smartphone applications for purchasing tickets and concessions to reduce direct contact with other people. Some Marcus Theatres venues and Studio Movie Grill locations are also offering private auditorium rentals for a safer big-screen experience.
"What people are doing is they're going to the theater with their family -- sometimes even weekly," McQuaker said. "They're able to watch a new movie in relative safety because they're in their own auditorium."
Yet even with encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccines and the switch to more relaxed mitigation tiers, some Illinois theaters are holding off on reopening. The Buffalo Grove Theater, for example, will remain closed due to safety concerns over the coronavirus.
The Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas group also has no immediate plans to reopen.
"Just from a movie release schedule, we're being cautious about the business," said Kat Clary, the vice president of marketing for Classic Cinemas.
"It's about having big-enough movies that people will leave their homes for on a weekly basis," Clary said. "Right now there's not a lot of movies."
One worrying sign was the recent decision by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to once again delay the release of "No Time to Die," the 25th film in the James Bond spy franchise. Originally slated to open last year, the film has been pushed back to Oct. 8.
As for the movie theaters that are reopening, many are promoting concession specials as a way to bring back audiences. Still, it's a struggle with many theater releases also available for streaming at home.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride basically," McQuaker said. "Without the new content, it makes it harder for us to attract people to movie theaters."
• Daily Herald staff photographer Mark Welsh contributed to this story.
AMC: Streets of Woodfield, Schaumburg; Market Square 10, Dekalb
Marcus Theatres: Addison Cinema; Elgin Cinema; Gurnee Mills Cinema; Orland Park Cinema; Country Club Hills
Other theaters: Hollywood Palms, Naperville; Studio Movie Grill, Wheaton; Hollywood Blvd., Woodridge