The Eltrym Theatre marquee hasn’t lit up for months, but that all changed on Friday, Sept. 18.
Owner Terry McQuisten reopened Baker City’s lone movie house to bring a sense of normalcy to her life and to downtown Baker City.
“It’s amazing how much difference it made to have a routine,” she said. “I had the smell of popcorn, the lights are on, and the doors are open. It feels normal.”
The theater closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the Eltrym showed films over the weekend, it’s not fully open.
Ticket sales are limited to keep each theater at 25% capacity and to ensure required social distancing between audience members. That means 25 people in theater one (the biggest), and 13 people in each of the two smaller theaters.
McQuisten hasn’t roped off seats, but she asks people to stagger seating by keeping three seats on either side, and ensuring that no one is in the rows in front or behind them.
Face coverings are required inside the building, unless a patron is eating or drinking.
McQuisten said she was glad crowds were modest over the weekend — about 10 people per show.
“We were slow, but it was really good,” she said. “It was super wonderful.”
The movie industry isn’t back to fully releasing films, and McQuisten was glad there wasn’t a blockbuster debuting, such as a “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” film, that would quickly have filled the limited seats.
She plans to show a mixture of new movies and old favorites for the time being. Current shows can be found on the Eltrym’s Facebook page and website: www.eltrym.com
She expects it will be easier to book older movies for the holidays.
“We can pull in a bunch of old films and get through the year,” she said.
Although the Eltrym is open all this week, McQuisten plans to reduce operating days to Friday through Tuesday. The theater will definitely be open on weekends as long as there is no local outbreak of the coronavirus.
“I’m happy to start out slow and get our feet under us,” she said. “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to keep people safe and happy.”
Show times are staggered to allow workers to disinfect seats. Additional time between movies also means less chance of a crowded lobby.
During the extended closure, McQuisten and her husband, Dan, had time to work on some projects, which included adding air scrubbers to the HVAC units to clean the air.
Changes more apparent to patrons are updates to both bathrooms — a wider doorway for more accessibility in the women’s room, and a stall door in the men’s bathroom.
In addition to the movies, the community is welcome to stop by and simply buy concessions.
“Before coronavirus, we had a lot of people who came in every week for popcorn,” she said.
This option at least offers a bit of the theater experience.
“We know some people are not overly comfortable with sitting in an indoor space with other people,” she said.
If nothing else, she’s happy to see the neon lights again illuminating downtown Baker City.
“Half of my reasoning is to make our community feel normal,” she said.