/Big decisions ahead for Highlands Cinemas
Highlands Cinemas owner Keith Stata says he needs to be able the Kinmount theatre at some point in 2021 or may not be able to stay in business. /File photo

Big decisions ahead for Highlands Cinemas

By Chad Ingram

“We need to open next year, and if we don’t we have problems,” says Keith Stata, owner of Kinmount’s Highlands Cinemas. “We need to be able to open in 2021, at least at some point.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the beloved seasonal movie theatre and museum hard, with Stata ultimately not opening at all in 2020, something that’s never happened in four decades in business.

“The problem is after 40 years, I know what makes the theatre work,” he says. “You can’t have staff on when you might be open, or might not be open.”

While he had applications for staff for last summer, at one point provincial restrictions had made it look like theatres would not be permitted to open at all. The mandated closure of certain groups of businesses also meant that groups of movie-goers essential for the theatre’s livelihood would not be in the area.

“First of all, we need the camps,” Stata says. “How many camps were open?”

The same went for school trips, and other types of group outings.

While the provincial government eventually allowed movie theatres to open their doors, it was with social distancing measures in place. Highlands Cinemas is comprised of a handful of small theatres, The laws around social distancing mean he could fit 11 people in one, 12 in another. It’s not enough to pay the bills. “If they don’t relax social distancing, how the hell can we open the theatre?” Stata says.

Heading into the season, Stata purchases popcorn in bulk, spending $15,000. Insurance costs about the same. “You spend $30,000 and open the doors, and nobody’s here,” he says.

There’s also the work that nobody sees. “People think I just close the doors and go to Florida for five months,” Stata says, estimating he spends about 120 hours each fall closing up shop.

There’s also the future of movie-going in general to consider. “The biggest problem is, are people going to feel safe, ever, going to the theatre?” Stata says.

As for what will happen in 2021, Stata says it’s too early to tell, and that there are just too many unknowns at this time with what will happen with the curve of the virus and what provincial regulations might look like by the time next summer arrives.

One thing seems fairly certain, though.

“For us to go two years without any income would be a stretch,” Stata says.