San Francisco Movie Theaters Stay Closed Due to Concessions Ban

The National Association of Theatre Owners of California/Nevada has unanimously agreed to remain closed in San Francisco, despite receiving the go-ahead from city officials to reopen.

The trade group said Wednesday that the city’s ban on serving concessions makes it “economically impossible” for theaters to reopen and “significantly limits” the moviegoing experience for audiences.

“NATO of CA/NV respectfully asks that San Francisco city officials follow the state’s and other counties’ guidelines in their approach to reopening theaters, while also remaining consistent with how they’re allowing other businesses to reopen,” the group added.

San Francisco city officials announced on Sept. 29 that the city would allow moviegoing in the wake of California lowering its reopening tier from “red” to “orange” as COVID-19 infection and case rates drop — meaning that movie theaters are eligible to reopen on Oct. 7 at 50% capacity or up to 200 people. NATO pointed out that San Francisco has announced that it is allowing indoor dining to resume, signifying the city’s approval for food and beverages to be consumed indoors, yet it is restricting concession sales in movie theaters.

“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,” said Milton Moritz, president and CEO of NATO of CA/NV. “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.”

California began allowing indoor movie theaters to reopen in early September in San Diego, El Dorado and Tuolumne counties, then allowed reopened sites in Orange County on Sept. 8. Riverside, Solano, San Luis Obispo, Sacramento, Fresno, Contra Costa, Yolo and San Joaquin counties have been allowed to reopen. Los Angeles County remains in the top “purple” tier due to its COVID-19 rates having more than seven new daily cases per 100,000 with a positive test rate above 8%.

Currently, about 75% of U.S. theater markets are open but the key Los Angeles and New York markets remain closed along with North Carolina, Michigan, New Mexico, Seattle-Tacoma and Portland, except for drive-ins. Attendance has been relatively sparse with moviegoers reluctant to attend amid the pandemic.