San Francisco Movie Theaters Blame Concession Ban for Decision to Stay Closed

Movie Theater Interior
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empty movie theater

Cinemas in the Northern California city were told they could flip on the lights as of Oct. 7, but aren't allowed to sell any food or beverages.

No popcorn and soda? Then no reopening for movie theaters in San Francisco.

The California chapter of the National Association of Theatre Owners said Tuesday that cinemas in the Bay Area city — one of the largest moviegoing markets in the U.S. — says its members have decided to remain shuttered because of a ban imposed by city officials on concession sales. A 25 percent limit on capacity is also a chief concern. Exhibitors were told last week they could reopen as of Oct. 7.

"While NATO of CA/NV and its members are grateful that San Francisco city officials are reopening theaters in the city, their proposed solution makes it economically impossible for our members to reopen and significantly limits the moviegoing experience for our audiences," the trade group, which also represents Nevada, said in a statement.

The announcement is more bad news for the box office as it tries to recover from an unprecedented shutdown brought about by the pandemic. Earlier this week, Regal parent company Cineworld — the second-largest circuit in the world — said it was reclosing all of its U.S. and U.K. locations because of a lack of new Hollywood product. Cineworld reached its decision a day after James Bond pic No Time to Die became the latest tentpole to flee the fall calendar, delaying its release from Nov. 20 to April 2021.

NATO CA/NV said the concession ban in San Francisco is inconsistent, considering that indoor restaurants, where food is consumed in a confined space, are being allowed to reopen in the Northern California city.

San Francisco isn't the first jurisdiction to ban concessions in order to minimize the amount of time consumers take their masks off while watching a movie. Massachusetts, where theaters have gone ahead and reopened, also has such a ban. Ditto for all of China.

San Francisco has met the state’s guidelines for the “orange tier,” meaning  theaters are eligible to reopen at 50 percent capacity or up to 200 people per auditorium, according to NATO CA/NV. To date, cinemas in 40 counties across California have reopened per those guidelines with full concession sales.

“While we respect and thank Mayor Breed for her decision to allow movie theaters to reopen, the restrictions in place present an insurmountable financial challenge for our members to do so and are preventing thousands of workers from returning to work,” NATO CA/NV Milton Moritz said in a statement.

“Our members have taken the steps to meet or exceed expert-backed health and safety measures, and we ask that the city reconsider its reopening plan so our theaters can, once again, serve our San Francisco community," he continued.