September 24, 2020 – It’s been 27 weeks since Sierra Theaters closed its doors in response to the coronavirus threat in March. The obstacles to returning to business have been many. This week, however, two pieces of good news are propelling the theaters forward.

On Tuesday the Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation to award Sierra Theaters a grant of $150,000 as part of the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) “Economic & Community Resiliency Grants” Program. The award is given after a rigorous application and review process to “anchor institutions” that play a vital and enduring role in the local community.

“We are extremely pleased and honored to be among the seven entities given an award, especially since the overall need is so great. This award gives us a fighting chance as we attempt to return to business,” said Michael LaMarca, Vice-President of Sierra Cinemas, Inc.

Sierra Theaters is deeply appreciative of the County’s decision to dedicate these funds to the community. Sierra Theaters wishes to extend their gratitude to the Board of Supervisors, County CEO Alison Lehman and her team, County staff and to the Evaluation Panel for the time and energy committed to the review process. This is a positive moment for the entire community and a testament to the quality of life we all enjoy and hope to continue.

The second piece of good news is that this week Nevada County is moving into the “Moderate” tier of Governor Newsom’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” This means movie theaters move from a 25% capacity restriction to a 50% capacity restriction.

“From a business perspective, opening our largest auditorium at 50% capacity is a scenario we can work with and is one of the conditions we’ve been looking for as we consider getting back into operation. However, the prospect of entering the holiday season with any capacity restrictions and a limited supply of new movies presents significant challenges. Typically, we rely on those few weeks of selling out our auditoriums around Thanksgiving and Christmas to hold us over during the slower winter months,” LaMarca said. “This is where the CRF grant money will really help by covering some of our fixed costs for the next few months.” CRF Funds must be spent on approved expenses before the end of 2020.

Sierra Theaters is approaching reopening one step at a time. The shifting sands of the movie release schedule require a cautious approach.

“We really want to get the Del Oro Theatre open by mid-October. The movie selection, however, is challenged. We rely on a steady stream of high quality movie product to run our business. As the movie studios continue to postpone their best movies into 2021 and hold off spending on marketing, we have to assume a much lower turnout than in previous years. Movie theaters can’t survive on one or two movies. We need everything to line up – we need cinemas to be open, we need audiences to feel safe returning, and we need a full slate of compelling movies,” said Michael LaMarca.

To address health and safety, Sierra Theaters has, in alliance with movie theaters across the country, signed on to CinemaSafe, a program promoting protocols and guidelines developed and supported by leading epidemiologists to support a safe return to movie theaters. This program, commissioned by the National Association of Theatre Owners, puts the health and safety of guests and employees at the center of movie theater operations. Reserved seating, mandatory masks, social distancing, staggered showtimes, enhanced employee training, and rigorous cleaning protocols are some of the steps being taken ensure a safe and healthy return to movie-going. In addition, Del Oro Theatre is also in the process of installing ion-generating devices that reduce pathogens into the ventilation system.

In a recent survey of local moviegoers, Sierra Theaters found that 49% of folks are confident in their safety and are excited to return to the movies.

“This feels like both a good and bad number,” said Azriel LaMarca, Vice-President of Sierra Theaters. “It means lots of people are excited to come back, and also lots of people still have safety concerns. Our hope is that we will be able to give those excited moviegoers the big screen experience they have been missing. There are some great movies coming up in the next couple of months that deserve to be seen on the big screen.”

Del Oro Theatre will open with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Other highly-anticipated films expected to be released to theaters this year include Death on the Nile, a murder mystery directed by Kenneth Branagh, the new James Bond thriller No Time to Die, and Wonder Woman 1984.

“Once again, this community has shown up for us,” said Azriel LaMarca. “The GoFundMe campaign we did in July and the CRF grant funds are making it possible for us to stay afloat. Movie theaters are are in dire straights all across this country. We are doing everything we possibly can to make sure there is still a movie theater in our town when this is over.”

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