Van Wert Cinemas, like many theaters, has had to temporarily close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Van Wert Cinemas, like many theaters, has had to temporarily close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
VAN WERT – 2020 was a very difficult year for the entertainment industry. Even with big movies like Wonder Woman 1984 out in some movie theaters, many cinemas have decided to remain shut due to lost profits. Van Wert Cinemas is no exception and has been closed, for the most part, since the summer. New owners Rod and Donna Saunders expect the cinema to remain closed for at least a few more months.

The Saunders purchased the Van Del Drive-In and Van Wert Cinemas from the Boyd family in late June 2020, with the hopes that the coronaviurs global pandemic would go away with warm weather.

However, when that didn’t happen, the Saunders opened anyway with hopes that people would want to go to the movies.

In early June, when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine allowed cinemas to open at 50 percent capacity, the Saunders hired staff and managers for the theater. However, when they opened to the public, very few people showed up.

“Even at 50 percent capacity, we were lucky if we had a $100 in ticket sales and we just couldn’t operate at those numbers,” said Donna. “It was costing us far more money to be open than to be closed. But we stayed open for six weeks that way just hoping and praying that customers would want to come back to the movies. But after six weeks of losing a lot of money, we just decided to close.”

Since closing, the Saunders have sought alternative ways to get people out of their homes and to the movie theater.

In the fall, the cinema began streaming football games. Rod noted that they are willing to stream basketball games as well if people are willing to come to watch.

At the Van Del, the Saunders utilized the outside arena to provide entertainment. Several virtual concerts such as Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, and Metallica, were shown as well as live shows such as Hawthorn Heights. The Lima Symphony Orchestra also played at the Van Del, which allowed one entertainment industry to help another.

“We’re looking at other options to try to bring entertainment to Van Wert County,” said Donna. “We’re looking to continue those concerts, even in future years when coronavirus isn’t around.”

Currently, the theater is open for private rental events. People are able to rent a theater and show any movie they have on Blu Ray. To rent a theatre, visit vanwertcinemas.com to select a time and date and to find more information.

Even if people wanted to head to the cinemas to watch a movie, Hollywood has paused production on many films. The films that are releasing, noted Rod, are not being released to theaters with favorable terms.

“The movie industry right now is not very friendly to any theaters,” said Rod. “The movies they are releasing, they are releasing with horrible terms.”

Rod noted, for instance, that Wonder Woman 1984 released on the condition that theaters must show the movie for eight weeks. Typically theaters are only contracted to show movies for two weeks. Rod also noted that the percentage of the cut the movie studios get in profit is also higher than usual.

“They are not making it financially feasible to be open,” said Rod. “They are not releasing great movies, plus they are releasing movies On Demand and through streaming.”

“It will change,” Rod said, hopefully. “It will come back to normal when everything else comes back to normal.”

Rod said he is most thankful for the recent passage of the newest COVID-19 relief bill which provides aid to small theaters like the Van Wert Cinema.

When the Saunders first purchased Van Wert Cinemas, they installed new, luxury seating in all five theaters. The seats recline and are heated. They also invested in a software program that automates the social distancing requirement. Further, the Saunders installed a system that allows people to pay with credit and debit cards.

The Saunders hope for the day when guests can see the new improvements.

“We really in our hearts believe that people want to get out of their houses; they don’t want to continue to sit in their homes after coronavirus is done and watch more movies in their home,” said Donna. “We’re hopeful that they will want to get out and come check out the Van Wert Cinema to see and experience the new chairs and enjoy the movie-watching experience with others. We’re hoping that’s going to happen soon.”

The Saunders don’t expect there to be many good new releases until Spring or so but are hopeful that once the vaccine is administered to more and more people, by summer, people will be able to come back out and watch a movie.

Rod also said people can expect to see the Van Del open much earlier this year than usual.