Princeton’s Capitol Cinemas Closing After COVID-19 Makes Financial Strain ‘Impossible’ To Overcome
Capitol Cinemas in Princeton is raising money to pay off final expenses as owner Heidi Boyd prepares for its closure.
Boyd has owned and loved the theater for 24 years. She posted on Facebook last week that she can no longer financially hang on and the theater will need to close soon, either permanently or temporarily.
This is the hardest post I’ve ever had to make... I can no longer financially hang on and will need to close temporarily... Posted by Capitol Cinemas on Monday, July 6, 2020
Princess Theatres of Mayfield also posted on Facebook Saturday that they are in “deep trouble” and “can’t generate enough revenue to stay open.” They have dropped ticket prices to $3 for all seats at all showtimes and will keep this policy until they return to showing new movies.
Princess Theatres owner Joe Smith said he opened the theater in 2005 and has been in the business since 1973. Smith has owned 13 different small-town theaters in his career. He said he and his wife would purchase, renovate and operate old, closed theaters to make them profitable before selling them to local people. He said the future is “very bleak” for the theater. Smith said the pandemic has been the worst thing to happen to theaters, up to and including the invention of television.
“We have no product to play. All we have is a small library of older films that the studios are allowing us to play during this time and most people don’t want to pay money to see a movie that they could have seen last night on TV,” Smith said.
Smith said there’s nothing to draw people into theaters. He said Princess Theatres has been playing classics since the governor allowed them to reopen.
“Sometimes we don’t even generate enough money to pay the film rental,” he said. “For the last couple of months I’ve had to use part of my social security to pay the kids that work here.”
Smith said it doesn’t look like the theater will have any decent supply of product to play until September. Princess Theatres shows mainly family films. Smith said he doesn’t think there will be any movies released for families to watch “probably until Christmas.” He said studios have been rolling back release dates and a lot of them have rolled back into 2021.
Smith also said Princess Theaters is now requiring people to wear masks in the theater but “a lot of people refuse to wear masks.”
He said he’s staying afloat by selling pieces from his film collection that he started building when he was 11 on Ebay. He said those funds go directly into the theater account.
“And of course I’m now like $20,000 in debt.”
Smith said if things don’t change, he will be out of business by the end of the month. He said the theater hasn’t received any government assistance.
At Capitol Cinemas, Boyd said coronavirus caused the costs to “pile up faster than I could keep up with.” She said it’s been pretty bad for at least a year or two before coronavirus and then the virus just “pretty much made it impossible.”
“Since we had that economy issue several years ago the cost of everything has skyrocketed. And I never really could charge a much higher price because first it's unfair and second, no one would pay that.”
Boyd said keeping fair prices meant more losses because the prices on her end had increased so much. These prices include film rent costs and costs of deliveries on popcorn, Coke and candy products.
“Let’s say you come to my theater and you buy a ticket for $8. Well, up to about 70-72% of that ticket goes back to the film company. We don’t pay just a flat rate. It’s very rare to pay a flat rate. Older movies will be about 35%. Newer movies...it depends on the film company as well. You could pretty much count on it being 60-70%.”
Boyd said in years past film rent costs have been 40-50%. She said all utilities are also automatically “way higher” than in a residential area. She said in the summertime, her minimum gas bill at home is roughly $15. At the theater, that minimum is around $200.
Boyd said a lot needs to be done on the building as well.
“There are some things that I haven’t been able to afford to do that kind of haunt me everyday that I need to do,” she said.
Boyd said theaters have good and bad quarters. Good quarters include the wintertime with the holidays and summertime. The other quarters have lower ticket sales.
In Mayfield, Smith said Princess Theaters is lucky to break even in September and October.
“Our prime season, which is the summer season, has now been destroyed,” Smith said.
Smith said he generally makes 60-65% of his revenue in the summer when the kids are out of school.
Boyd said all movie theaters depend on the good quarter and Capitol Cinemas’s good quarter was supposed to start in March with the opening of ‘I Still Believe.’ She said if the theater had been open and there were no coronavirus, ‘I Still Believe’ would have given her the opportunity to catch up on a lot of bills.
“I was counting on that. And we had ‘I Still Believe’ for maybe two days before we were told to close. So that didn’t happen, and this is our good quarter, and that’s not happening,” Boyd said.
She said normally she could catch up but “ there’s no catching up at this point for me.”
Boyd said people can help by stopping by and buying curbside popcorn from 3-8 p.m. on Saturday. She said she also has a venmo, and bank accounts at First Southern and Farmers Bank for those interested in donating towards the final expenses. She said all the money will go toward bills and the $89,000 theater mortgage.
Smith said the best thing people can do to support Princess Theatres is “come and buy a movie ticket, sit down and eat some popcorn and a cold soda.” Like Capitol Cinemas, Princess Theatres is offering curbside concession sales from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. He said someone has set up a GoFundMe page for the theater but has not gotten in touch with him about it.
Boyd said the two best things about her time at the theater have been her employees and the customers.
Boyd said she has about 10 employees including herself. Two are going to college, two are still in high school and three are older who Boyd said “have a lot of experience there [Capitol Cinemas] and life experience that they should be able to find something pretty quick right now.” She said she loves the teenagers.
“They’re dedicated and they’re hard-working. You can teach them really good work ethic to carry on down the road. They’re fun. They’re open. So I really, really will miss these kids,” she said.
Boyd said she also loves when a movie brings out emotion in its viewers.
“That raw emotion that you see or hear in people like an entire crowd laughing. An entire cinema where there’s screaming every five seconds because it’s a scary movie. Grown men walking out of the cinema in tears because a Christian film just moved them so much. It’s that. That experience, knowing that they’re going to walk out of there and that experience is going to go with them every day and they’re going to share that experience with other people.”
Boyd said when the theater was closed she couldn’t see her regulars and “there’s still some I haven’t seen since the beginning of the year and I miss them.”
She said she and the past owner of the theater have always been community-minded and tried to give back as much as possible.
“Sometimes giving back is small. Sometimes giving back is huge. And sometimes giving back is just showing up or speaking out,” she said.
Boyd said Capitol Cinemas has offered free showings on Saturday mornings every summer when the kids are out of school. She usually obtains 60 sponsors for the entire summer. This year, she said she didn’t want to go out get all the sponsors and shut down before offering all the free movies.
“So instead this time, I just, picked a couple days here and there, asked for some sponsors. They all stepped up and contacted me,” she said.
Capitol Cinemas is showing Despicable Me 3 free of charge on Saturday, July 18. Doors open at 12:30 p.m. and the movie starts at 1 p.m. Boyd said all three cinemas will be open for the showing.
Boyd is currently looking for work. But said she may have found a job in something she’s always wanted to do.
“I’m really hoping that that works out because I’ll still be able to see my customers all the time and still be able to work with people and share my experiences on how good customer service can make or break someone’s day.”
This story has been updated.