ROGERS PARK — If movie night on the couch is getting a little stale, The New 400 Theaters has a solution that may also keep the 100-year-old movie house in business.
Unable to pack in moviegoers due to the pandemic, The New 400 Theaters, 6746 N. Sheridan Road, is renting out its big screens for private movie viewings.
The move is just the latest effort to keep the independent movie theater afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, said general manager Scott Holtz.
“It’s one knee jerk after another,” Holtz said of maintaining business during the pandemic. “But we finally found our stride.”
During the summer, the theater opened its patio to bar service while selling popcorn and candy. But with winter setting in, a new revenue stream had to be found, Holtz said.
So far, the theater renting business is paying off.
After posting to social media and asking customers if they’d be interested in renting out the theaters, Holtz said he received 100 reservation requests in the first day or so.
Weekends have been thoroughly booked through October, with November weekends nearly booked up as well, Holtz said.
“December is filling in quickly,” he said. “I’m happy about that.”
Private theater reservations start at $200 for three hours with a maximum capacity of 25 people per theater, Holtz said. Customers can bring in DVDs or Blu-Rays, or they can log in to streaming services. Video game consoles like Xbox and Playstation can also be accommodated. For more information, click here.
The rental service has been most popular with couples, he said, but birthday parties and even a small movie premiere have booked the theaters.
The pivot to private screenings has allowed The New 400 Theaters to retain an assistant manager and concessions workers. It is keeping the business afloat — but just barely, Holtz said.
“We’re not making a profit, but we’re covering our expenses,” he said.
The New 400 Theaters, built in 1912, is also getting a makeover during the pandemic.
With no new movie screenings, the theater does not have movie posters to display in its lobby. Instead, the theater is highlighting local artists, giving them wall space to sell their work.
The business earns a small commission on any art sales, but it’s done mostly to brighten up the place, Holtz said.
“It adds to the experience,” he said.
The theater crew is also taking time to renovate, redoing the floors in some theaters and painting the walls.
The improvements are in anticipation of when the pandemic has passed and neighbors are hungry for collective theater experiences once more, Holtz said.
“My hope is next summer,” he said. “There will be a demand for it, and The New 400 Theaters will be a destination.”
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