‘It’s Going Away’: A Small Movie Theater Struggles to Survive

On a rainy day last week, 72 moviegoers visited the Park Plaza Cinema in Hilton Head Island, S.C., to see Liam Neeson in “Honest Thief.” It was the largest single-day attendance the independently owned five-screen theater had seen since reopening in August after a five-month shutdown. The feeling of celebration was short-lived. The next day, only 22 people showed.

Park Plaza, like movie theaters big and small around the country, has been decimated by the pandemic. After its long closure, it has established social-distancing protocols and installed new air filtration systems. It has tried initiatives like curbside popcorn sales. But the efforts have not been enough to offset the larger trends upending moviegoing, namely that many people still don’t seem inclined to return to theaters in large numbers and that Hollywood, with no audience to speak of, has pushed off most major releases until next year.

“We are an industry that is part of the fabric of America, and it’s going away,” said Lucie Mann, who owns and runs the theater with her husband, Larry. “If we don’t get aid soon, it’s going to change forever.”

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