MT. PLEASANT — For 12 full weeks, projectors sat dormant and seats remained empty at the Temple Theatre in Mt. Pleasant as a state-mandated shutdown required theaters to stop showing films in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s not a fun situation to be in. It feels empty and hollow,” Chris Swed, who oversees operations at the theater, said.
The two-screen theater continues to feel a little vacant as less than the usual amount of moviegoers have started coming back, even after reopening for showings.
The timing of the pandemic is especially hard for small-town theaters, who usually see the most business during the summer. But with health concerns, coupled with a delay in new releases, numbers are much lower than what is expected in a “normal” summer. Theater manager Mark Eisentraut said a usual weekend has seen about 40 to 50 customers come through.
Currently, the theater is showing older titles to provide the moviegoing experience for residents who want to come in as well as continuing to-go popcorn sales, which sustained the establishment through the shutdown.
At its height, the theater sold up to 60 buckets per night.
“It’s not our typical summer blockbusters. Everything is different right now,” he said. Swed added the next new feature is expected to be released in August.
Like other businesses in the process of reopening, the theater has taken extra precautions to protect customers including erecting a plexiglass shield at their counter as well as marking off 6-foot sections within auditoriums to help customers stay socially distanced.
Even with the markers, Swed said most customers have naturally spread out and that the theater hasn’t had to worry too much about crowds because showings have generally not reached 50 percent occupancy.
“Some people aren’t ready to come back and that’s understandable,” Swed added, “We just want to continue to be part of their movie-seeing experience, whether that’s in the theater or with some movie popcorn at home.”
Although the pandemic has thrown the movie industry for a loop, Swed said he doesn’t “think it’s the end of cinema” and even believes the slowdown may be beneficial for smaller theaters like his. With only one or two new releases expected to drop each week starting in August, competition against larger theaters will not be as fierce.
“We won’t be beaten by the content they’re showing, which is the biggest thing. If they’re only releasing one or two movies a week, the smaller theaters will be able to get the same titles. I’m excited to get those new titles out in August,” he said.
Through the challenges of the time, Swed added the support of the community has been “amazing.”
“They really came out for us. Movies are a way for people to escape and get through difficult times. That continues to be our goal,” he added.