Cars continue to flock to Streator Eagle 6 on weekends despite the theater entering an intermission during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One might not think a theater would have much to offer for curbside pickup, but vehicle after vehicle enters the parking lot looking to get their fill of the theater’s popcorn.
It may not be a sign La Salle County residents need their popcorn but instead need their theater to be supported during the crisis.
Eagle 6 owner Eric Gubelman agreed mostly, but it also could be that the popcorn is just that good.
“I think it’s a combination of things. Two-thirds of it is what you said, it’s sort of a desire to support the theater, and people repeatedly tell us [the theater has been] a highlight over several years in Streator. … I think part of it, though, is people need to get their popcorn fix even if they’re watching on their tiny screens at home,” Gubelman said. “When you have movie night at home, there’s concession envy.”
The movie theater experience is a communal one, and unfortunately during the COVID-19 crisis, that puts the business closer to the back of the line when it comes to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s reopening plan.
Gubelman said, to his eyes, the reopening plan has a “gap in it” when it comes to theaters. Drive-in theaters are permitted in Phase 2, with indoor theaters planned for Phase 4, and there’s a third phase that doesn’t specifically mention movie theaters but does allow for the reopening of non-essential retail businesses and gatherings of 10 or fewer people.
The staff at Streator Eagle 6 tossed around the idea of putting up a giant screen outside and creating a makeshift drive-in, but questioned how safe that would be for attendees with cars stacked upon cars in the parking lot.
Now, they’ve come up with what they’ve found to be a safer solution: private screenings.
Attendees could book a theater with 10 or fewer guests to watch one of eight movies or, exclusive to Streator at this time, could bring their own DVD to see on the big screen.
“We see it as a safer alternative than trying to jerry-rig a drive-in, which is explicitly permitted. And it’s not only safer for public health – instead of having 50 people in a parking lot at one time, we’ll have 10 people in an auditorium – but better for the theater in that we won’t have a single showtime but four different rounds,” Gubelman said.
The movies would be “E.T.,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Trolls World Tour,” “Jaws,” “Pretty in Pink,” Back to the Future” and “The Fast and the Furious.”
He estimates it could result in a swing of more than $100,000 from all three of his locations in a month.
He’s gotten a green light from the health department in Robinson and a red light from the health department in Clinton, which focused on theaters being included only in Phase 4. The La Salle County Health Department is currently processing the request.
It’s been a bit confusing to be a business owner during the pandemic as government agencies remain slightly out of sync. Gubelman was able to get a paycheck protection loan through the federal government, but if he’s unable to fully open because of state leadership, then he can’t bring workers back, and thus the loan won’t be forgiven. On top of that, he hears from multiple voices in his communities between various state’s attorneys, county sheriffs, county health departments, mayors and more.
“I have no doubt that if we open [in June] for private showings that we will be responsible and we will be meeting the spirit of what’s coming down from the governor’s office,” Gubelman said. “But I’m in a little bit of limbo land. Who do I listen to?”
Until then, his staff has been prepped on the latest safety measures as they were before the closure and will share these processes with customers on Facebook.
If turned down for the screenings, Gubelman said the theaters still will open when they’re allowed, but every little bit helps.
He added that going from more than $2 million of annual sales from the theaters to nothing has created a “freefall” sort of feeling.
“And it’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop,” Gubelman said. “At some point, you’re going to have to pull the parachute, and we’re getting closer to the ground.”
For information and updates, visit fb.com/StreatorEagle6.
To pick up some popcorn of your own, visit from 2 to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at the theater, 301 Danny’s Drive.