Sick of Streaming Services? Check out a Movie Again on Bainbridge Island!

As the Hollywood elite and the international press corps celebrate entertainment on the big screen and on television in the days and weeks ahead, first with the Golden Globes and then later with the Oscars, movies – and movie theaters – are suddenly on people’s minds again.

Our little island is no different. Bainbridge Cinemas and the Lynwood Theatre have been shuttered for nearly a year, as Covid-19 restrictions have kept people indoors watching their favorite shows, and some new releases, on regular TV and streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO and others.

“We closed March 17, 2020, reopened for three weeks in October and then shut down until last Friday (Feb. 19),” says Jeff Brien, executive vice president and managing general partner of Bainbridge Entertainment Enterprises. “It’s been a very challenging time.”

BEE, which Brien operates in partnership with long-time island resident and former Mayor Sam Granato, owns the five-screen cinema complex at The Pavilion in Winslow and the Historic Lynwood.

The movie houses have realized practically “zero revenues” over the past eleven-plus months, but Brien is hopeful that with stricter safety protocols in place at his theaters, and the public’s desire to venture out a wee bit more, business will begin to pick up.

Bainbridge Cinemas are showing five relatively new releases twice daily. The current line-up includes, among others, “Wonder Woman,” the indie sensation “Nomadland,”and “News of the World,” with Tom Hanks.

Down at the Lynwood, the one-screen theatre, built in 1936 and still one of the oldest continuously operating movie houses West of the Mississippi, has two showings a day – at 4 p.m. and 6:30. “Blithe Spirit,” and “Our Friend” were showing there recently.

Brien and Granato have adopted safety guidelines put out by Washington State and the National Association of Theater Owners to ensure that their patrons feel safe and secure attending one of their movies.

Their protocols, like all businesses now, include mask wearing by customers and employees, social distancing and proper sanitation. Only 25 percent of a movie theater can be occupied at any one time under the state’s current phase, and each one is sanitized after each showing.

The temperature of each employee is taken every day, there’s Plexiglas separating customers from the concession area and the box office, and the air circulation system is rated to a “MERV 13,” one of the highest HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) levels out there.

“Our goal is that people will come to the theater(s), see the employees and the protocols we have in place, will feel comfortable and will want to come back,” says Brien.

He is hoping that if there are no new restrictions put in place, business could begin to turn around by summer, when Hollywood traditionally releases its big blockbuster films, and then by “the fourth quarter maybe we will begin making money” again.

“Hopefully, things will slowly get better,” notes the 72-year-old. “(But) everything is a big unknown. I stopped predicting.”

Movie theaters have been hit hard by the pandemic, even though Brien claims that there hasn’t been one case of Covid-19 worldwide attributed to someone attending a cinema.

“We just happened to be in an industry that was deemed more harmful than others,” he says, with a bit of frustration in his voice. “We were one of the business categories that was completely shut down.”

Brien says restaurants, nail salons, retail stores and even health clubs were allowed to operate at some capacity during most of the pandemic, but movie houses, live theaters and sporting venues were shuttered completely.

As a result, he had to lay off his 20 full-and-part-time employees (eight are now back) and watch his revenues dwindle down to nothing.

“Are (movie) theaters going to survive?” Brien asked. “Honestly, I don’t know. We have to work our way through it at this point. We’re going day by day. It’s an uphill battle.”

If business doesn’t turnaround, Brien said he and his partner are mulling plans to “go to the community” for fundraising support, particularly for cosmetic improvements for the Historic Lynwood.

“I think the community really likes to have these theaters here,” Brien says. “And we’ve given back over the years to auctions, fundraisers and made donations. If we had to, I think Bainbridge would respond positively to that (idea).”

*Images by Kevin Dwyer

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