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Movie Theaters In Texas Are Starting To Reopen

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The big screen is back in Texas. The state is home to some of the first movie theaters in the country to reopen. Under Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order, they can operate with 25% occupancy. Now, a lot of the big theater chains are taking a wait-and-see approach, but today EVO Entertainment is reopening two of its six theaters in Kyle, Texas, and Schertz, Texas. CEO and co-founder of EVO Entertainment Group Mitch Roberts is on the line.

Hey there.

MITCH ROBERTS: Hey there. How are you?

KELLY: Hey. I'm well. Thank you. So how did you decide it's time; reopening is the right call?

ROBERTS: Yeah. I think that we've just been waiting to see what the governor says and what the officials say. Ultimately, we shut down about 44 days ago. So we'd been planning and waiting for that order to come down, and it did.

KELLY: Now, what's been the most challenging thing to figure out as you work through how this is going to look?

ROBERTS: I think that, you know, ultimately, the biggest challenge over the past few months has just been, how do we survive? How do we keep generating revenue? How do we keep our team members on?

KELLY: Sure.

ROBERTS: But moving forward into this phase, it's just been about, how do we continue to provide people the escape that the cinema provides while keeping them safe and without keeping these measures too draconian or too authoritarian? Because...

KELLY: And if we - forgive me. If we were standing in one of your theaters right now as it's going to look today, how are you keeping people at this 25% occupancy rule?

ROBERTS: Yeah. A lot of it's when we reserve seating online. We actually became the first cinema in the world today to roll out dynamic social ticketing. That's through our ticketing partners. And what that allows us to do is - all the auditoriums are capped to that 25%. And if you select a ticket that's within 10 feet of another group, it tells you, hey; you can't sit here. You need to maintain physical...

KELLY: Right.

ROBERTS: ...Distancing.

KELLY: Right. Right. And things like popcorn sales - how are you working that?

ROBERTS: Yeah. So one of our theaters is a full dine-in - so in-theater dining experience. And we're taking orders via notepad. That way you don't have a server that's, you know, having to whisper and get close to you. And then in our concession stands, all the items have been programmed to more grab-and-go. So the popcorn is premade. Your drinks are in premade containers. And then we all have the sneeze guards in front of the registers.

KELLY: Right. Have you sold out? Are people coming?

ROBERTS: Yeah, folks are coming. I was able to greet our first guest back this morning here in Schertz. And I think we have about 50 folks in the building right now. They're watching different movies. I think the busiest one is "Sonic The Hedgehog." But...

KELLY: (Laughter).

ROBERTS: Yeah.

KELLY: People need some escapism. I was going to ask because Hollywood isn't releasing much right now.

ROBERTS: Yeah.

KELLY: What films are you actually showing?

ROBERTS: Yeah. We're going back into the library titles and just getting some feel-good content. I know we even have "The Goonies" back on screen right now. We'll bring back "Selena," "Grease" - you know, some of those old, happy, feel-good titles.

KELLY: So people are coming to see movies they may well have already seen, but it's, I guess, about the experience at this point that we all miss.

ROBERTS: Yeah.

KELLY: Yeah.

ROBERTS: I think they're just - they're looking for that escape, you know?

KELLY: Yeah. And in the few seconds we have left, how are you taking care of your staff, making sure that they stay healthy?

ROBERTS: It all starts with the PPE and adhering - making sure that the guests are adhering to the same testing standards that the staff is. You know, we're taking temperatures of both guests and staff, providing the staff with their PPE - the masks and the gloves.

KELLY: Right.

ROBERTS: So - and then, of course, they're not forced...

KELLY: Right.

ROBERTS: ...To come to work if they don't feel comfortable. We're offering paid sick leave to all of them.

KELLY: Well, we wish you luck. That is Mitch Roberts, co-founder and CEO of EVO Entertainment Group, which is reopening two of its theaters in Texas today.

Mr. Roberts, thanks for your time.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DREAMCAST SONG, "LEO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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