CHIPPEWA FALLS — Connie Olson said Micon Cinemas in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire has struggled this year, with revenue down between 80% and 90% from past years, as customers have been concerned about heading to packed movie theaters.
Olson, Micon Cinemas vice president, is thankful the state announced $10 million on Tuesday for the COVID-19 Movie Theater Grant Program. The Chippewa Falls theater will receive $116,959, and their two Eau Claire theaters will receive $131,578.
“It’s huge,” Olson said. “It’s huge for all the Wisconsin theaters that are receiving the necessary aid. I hope it’s enough to last us until people return. It’s definitely needed.”
The state dollars provide each theater about $14,000 per screen.
Olson said she understands why people have stayed away, even though they’ve put in safety measures, and haven’t sold seats that would put strangers next to each other.
“You have to feel comfortable coming to the movies,” she said. “We try to may you feel safe. We know that is going to take awhile.”
Gov. Tony Evers announced the funds for 54 movie theater owners.
“Wisconsin businesses across industries and communities have felt the strains of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and movie theaters have been particularly hard as they also battle stalled movie production,” Evers said in a press release. “Movie theaters are often a corner stone of our main street businesses, and I am glad we were able to get these funds out the door to help them keep theirs open.”
The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, administered by the state’s Department of Administration. The money can be applied to pandemic-related operational costs, including social distancing and sanitizing, and personnel costs.
It has been a challenging year for the Micon Cinemas theater chain. The downtown theater shut down at the beginning of the year because of a heater problem. It reopened Feb. 14, only to close March 17. Olson said they attempted to reopen June 12, but opted to close two weeks later because of lack of crowds. The building is available for private screenings, but is otherwise closed.
The Chippewa Falls theater shut down in mid-February for renovations. It reopened June 25, but outside of a few new movies like “Tenet” and “New Mutants,” they have been showing classic films.
“Tenet did $350 million worldwide, but it didn’t do well in the United States,” Olson said. “Anything else considered a blockbuster has been pulled by Hollywood for a future date. Or it is going to a streaming service.”
Olson said she is hopeful the state assistance gets them through a winter where attendance is expected to remain small, but she’s optimistic that vaccines means crowds can return in the spring.
“We’re looking forward to things getting normal again and people returning to movies,” she said.