RCE Theaters of Elizabeth City is no different from other businesses that have suffered significant financial losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But unlike other businesses like restaurants and barbershops that have been allowed to reopen in North Carolina, movie theaters still remain closed.
And based on Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision Wednesday to keep the state paused in Phase 2 of its reopening for at least five more weeks, RCE Theaters won’t be showing any movies anytime soon.
That’s why RCE’s owners, Janelle and Blaine Given, are asking residents to join a national campaign that seeks federal relief money for theaters and other small businesses that still remain closed.
The #SaveYourCinema campaign is sponsored by the National Association of Theatre Owners, of which RCE is a member. The campaign asks supporters to sign an online pre-written letter addressed to Congress. The letter seeks lawmakers’ support of the RESTART Act, a proposed federal plan designed to assist small businesses for the remainder of 2020.
“As a moviegoer in your community, I am writing to ask you to save our local movie theaters,” the letter begins. “Without your help, we could lose our beloved cinemas and a cherished American pastime.
“I urge you to support the RESTART Act (S. 3814/H.R. 7481), and to please press Treasury and the Federal Reserve to implement more relief measures for cinemas of all sizes.”
More than 200,000 people already have signed the letter, according to a news release from the theater owners association. Locally, at RCE Theater’s Facebook page, nearly 10 people have indicated they signed the letter.
“It takes less than a minute to submit and will help not only all movie theaters that were forced to close, but other small businesses through the RESTART Act,” Janelle Given said. “This act will allow small businesses to apply for a loan to help support their continued expenses.”
The RESTART Act was introduced in May by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennett, D-Colorado, and Todd Young, R-Indiana. RESTART stands for Reviving the Economy Sustainably Toward A Recovery in Twenty-twenty Act.
The bill establishes a new loan program that would provide funding to cover six months of payroll and other business expenses for businesses with fewer than 5,000 employees. It also would extend the loan forgiveness period for paycheck protection program loan recipients, among other actions.
In North Carolina, movie theaters, gyms, bars, bowling alleys and other businesses providing entertainment have been closed since March. The mandatory closings are part of Cooper’s phased plan to reopen the state’s economy.
On Wednesday, those businesses took another hit when Cooper announced he was again extending Phase 2 of his Safer at Home plan by another five weeks, or until Sept. 11. The announcement marked the second time Cooper has extended Phase 2. The current extension was set to expire on Friday.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the governor has decided to extend Phase 2 for any gym, bar, bowling alley, movie theater or entertainment venue,” said Given, when contacted Wednesday. “It is extremely hard to understand or to even swallow at this time. We feel like all businesses deserve the right to open, if they adhere to certain safety guidelines, which we feel we have in place.”
Cooper’s announcement Wednesday puts even more emphasis on why residents should support the #SaveYourCinema campaign, according to Given.
“The RESTART Act is not only necessary, but vital at this time,” she said.
RCE Theaters opened in the former Gateway Cinemas in February 2018. The company owns and operates a second cinema in Roanoke Rapids.
Given said because of COVID-19 RCE Theaters’ total estimated loss of revenue, including both cinemas, is around $700,000.
“I would guesstimate our Elizabeth City losses would be around $450,000; numbers obviously depend on the excitement of the product that is out,” she said, referring to fan popularity of a particular movie.
Cooper ordering movie theaters to close in March was particularly tough for RCE Theaters. Just a few weeks before on Feb. 15, the Elizabeth City theater opened its new $1 million expansion, which includes two new auditoriums, Given explained.
“So not only do we have our regular expenses, but construction and equipment loans that need to be paid,” she said. “These loans were deferred for 90 days, but we are past that now and our funds are dwindling away.”
With some creativity, RCE Theaters has managed to remain open through the pandemic. The company hasn’t been able to show movies indoors, but has come up with COVID-19-safe ways to generate revenue and to keep workers employed.
“Things have been especially tight and we have tried to be innovative and creative throughout this pandemic,” Given said. “We have done everything from starting an online store so we could sell concessions curbside, selling T-shirts, coupon books, gift cards, movie loyalty cards, to designing an all new pop-up cinema that has already served several local churches and families in the area. We plan to begin implementing outdoor movies soon at RCE Theaters.”
In July, RCE Theaters held a drive-in movie night in the parking lot of the Shoppes at Tanglewood shopping center. In June, the theater began hosting family game night on Monday evening, which included a life-sized chess game set up outside at the main entrance.
RCE stands for Red Carpet Entertainment. The local company is not affiliated with RC Theaters, owners of the new Albemarle 8 theater complex, which has been delayed in opening this summer because of COVID-19.
According to the legislation tracking website congress.gov, the most recent action on the RESTART Act was June 3 when the bill was heard in committee.
To read the #SaveYourCinema letter, visit the website saveyourcinema.com.