SAN ANTONIO – Closures of non-essential businesses like bars, bowling alleys and movie theaters were announced on March 14 by Governor Greg Abbott to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
At that time, companies like Santikos Entertainment had already implemented new safety procedures such as empty seats between parties, which are now being rolled over beginning Saturday afternoon for the reopening.
Santikos announced the reopening of three select theaters, including the Palladium, Casa Blanca and CIbolo locations. Movie tickets are only $5 and all showtimes are listed on Santikos’ main website.
The theaters are showing their high-performance movies from a month ago, including “Bloodshot” and “The Invisible Man.” Showtimes for new movies like “Trolls World Tour” are available, but also major throwbacks like “Selena” will be screened.
“This is psychological for us,” Andrew Brooks, the executive director of marketing and sales, said. “We’re not trying to make money. The safety of our employees and our guests is number one.”
One of the most notable differences for customers will be the blue and while social distancing markers. Those markers can be seen outside of the Palladium leading up to the box office. The glass at the box office serves as a layer of protection between the employee and customers and offers the chance to purchase tickets for those without access to the internet.
Although card transactions are encouraged, Santikos has a designated cash exchange line for gift cards. Make sure you have exact change, as no money will be handed back.
Santikos has strategically assigned new duties for employees to help reduce contact and the spread of germs between customers and objects.
“We’ve trained our staff on opening and closing doors, and we’ve really eliminated contact points throughout the whole theater,” Brooks said. Once inside the theater, the social distancing markers will guide you to a safety checkpoint where you’ll have to disclose some information.
“You’re going to be asked questions,” Brooks said.
Customers will be asked about symptoms and possible exposure to COVID-19.
“If the answer is yes (to any question), we’re gonna politely ask you to come back (another time) and refund you your money,” Brooks said. “If the answer is no, you get to come in.”
The concession stand won’t look the same. The grab and go options like chips, candy or bottled sodas aren’t available, but Brooks said main items remain available for purchase.
“All drinks and large popcorn are $5 right now, and that’s just because we aren’t gonna do refills,” Brooks said. “Again, we eliminated a touchpoint of a cup, going back to one of our freestyle machines or ICEE machines. Same thing with popcorn.”
After you pay for your snacks, you’ll be directed to another area to pick up your drink.
Rows inside the theater are blocked off with caution tape and two seats must remain empty between parties. Those limitations are also reflected on online seating charts. If you’re purchasing tickets for your family, Brooks said they’ll be allowed to sit next to each other after movie previews.
Once the movie wraps up, an usher will direct guests to exit one row at a time beginning at the front.
According to Brooks, the safety guidelines implemented by Santikos now serve as an example for thousands of theaters involved in the National Association of Theater Owners, or NATO.
“Our COO, Rob Lehman, was actually asked by NATO to be a part of their opening task force to come up with policies and procedures for theaters across the nation to open with,” Brooks said. “We’re looking forward to showing the community what we can do.”
Employees like the Palladium’s Guest Experience Manager, James Ford, said they were given the choice to come back if they felt comfortable with the added protocols. Brooks said CEO Tim Handren spoke directly to employees about the company’s top priority being safety for all who set foot in one of their entertainment centers.
When asked if he felt safe, Ford responded, “Absolutely. I feel 100% safe or I wouldn't be back.”
A lot of changes but still a chance for audiences to sit back and relax.
To read the company’s full list of safety procedures, click here.