Some suburban movie theaters reopen, others hold off

AMC Lake in the Hills 12 to reopen Jan. 29

Several suburban movie theaters reopened Jan. 22 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 Jan. 29, including the one in Lake in the Hills. 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 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.

The NCG Cinema, 1505 N. Bridge St., Yorkville, reopened Friday, Jan. 22.

“We are so excited to announce that we will officially be reopening [again] this Friday!” theater officials wrote online Wednesday, Jan. 20, on the theater’s Facebook page. “We can’t wait to get back to serving our local community.”

One of so many local theaters impacted by the pandemic, NCG Cinema had shut down in late November at the height of Illinois’ outbreak of the virus.

Meanwhile, Classic Cinemas’ Kendall 11 theater, 95 Fifth St., Oswego, and Cinema 7, 101 Duvick Ave., Sandwich, remain closed.

“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, 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 on the day it reopened. Last year the theater was closed from March until August and then again from November to now.

“I’m excited,” Burns said. “[We] 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 buying tickets and concessions to reduce direct contact with other people. Some Marcus Theatres venues and Studio Movie Grill locations also are 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 because of 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, 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 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 concessions specials as a way to bring back audiences. Still, it’s a struggle when many theater releases also are 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.