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Local theater serving up concessions to film food fans

When you operate a business, you give your customers what they want.

Robin Strey is manager of Danville Cinemas 8. Although his business normally provides entertainment in the form of showing the latest blockbuster movies, customers also have to have other things as part of the experience, like candy, soft drinks, and of course, popcorn.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic closed the Cinemas’s doors March 16 and the movie screens went dark, Strey and other managers heard from their customers when they were out in public, and they had one question.

“Most of the time, the first thing they say is, ‘When are you opening,’” Strey said. “Since we don’t know, they say, ‘We just want some popcorn.’”

Assistant manager Ashley Milby said people who know she works at the theater stop her and tell her they need theater popcorn.

The customers asked, and Strey answered.

Friday afternoon, Strey and his staff set up a drive-thru concession stand outside the theater. They publicized the event on social media, announcing that movie concessions would be available curbside. Prices for concessions are lower than normal theater prices, and Strey said prices were being lowered to even dollars to provide a discount for their customers.

“We thought it would be a good thing to do. This is the first day we’ve done it, but with the rain, we’re not expecting too much, but we’ll see,” he said.

Despite the rain, business quickly picked up. Less than a half hour into the event, several customers pulled up to the curb to order popcorn and other concessions, with some even calling ahead to place an order.

“My kids were really excited. We come to the movies a couple of times a month at minimum,” said Erica Sluder of Danville. “We saw they had advertised concession sales on social media, and the kids were really excited about getting some movie theater popcorn, even if they couldn’t enjoy the Cinemas atmosphere. It’s a highlight of the movies, and it’s not the same at home making your own popcorn.”

Sluder said she planned to enjoy the concessions with her family while watching a movie at home.

Strey said he had seen business begin to slow down for the theater as the pandemic approached.

“We sanitized everything, we wore gloves, and we made sure if the customers did come in, they were safe,” he said. “The health department came out and saw what we did, they said that’s fine. Then about a week later, we got a phone call saying we had to shut down.”

Strey knew things were about to change, especially when he heard the news of the cancellation of an upcoming James Bond movie, “No Time to Die.” The movie was originally slated to begin playing in April, but now has an expected release date of Nov. 25, according to the Internet Movie Database, or www.imdb.com.

“They pushed it all the way back,” Strey said. “They do a lot of overseas sales, and if they released it here earlier, they may not get the overseas, so that was the first sign to me. We’re just waiting now to find out what happens.”

Strey added that he has heard June 1 as a target opening date for theaters, but he said he’s still waiting for guidelines for reopening, as well as having movies to show.

“Most of the film companies have pushed everything back, so we’re not sure exactly what we can get,” he said.

If new movies aren’t an option, classic films could be shown. Strey said Danville Cinemas 8 is a first-run theater showing new releases, but there is a possibility the theater could show some older movies until new releases are released by studios.

“That’s what we’re looking at. We’re working with our bookers right now to see if we could do that until we get new movies,” he said. “We’d like to get open as soon as possible, but we don’t know what the restrictions are going to be. We want to get all of that in place first because we don’t want the public coming in until we’re ready. We want to make sure they’re taken care of first.”

Until the theater can reopen its doors to show movies, Strey and his staff plan to continue serving up the curbside concessions. He said they will be offering the treats each Friday and Saturday from 4 – 8 p.m. as long as customers are interested.

If the first weekend is any indication, the customers are definitely interested. Saturday evening shortly before 8 p.m., cars were lined up waiting for snacks.

“We just love the experience, we love coming to see the movies, and the popcorn is definitely an added bonus,” said William Spalding.

Diane Lankford agreed, saying, “They’ve got the best popcorn in town. We placed a call-in order and came to pick it up. We love the movies here and we miss it. We’ll be glad when they open and we can come back.”