The Bison 6 Cinema, like other small businesses, has been forced to find creative ways to get sales since the coronavirus pandemic began. But Cory Keim, general manager, remains optimistic about the industry’s future despite a dramatic drop in business this year.
“I do believe it will be big again,” he said. “People will go out, they will go to the movies. There will be the big blockbuster movies and they’ll be exclusive to the theaters only and then they’ll go to streaming and other options, I guess.”
But Keim said he believes it’s going to take some time for theaters to come back.
“People are going to have to get used to going out again,” he said.
Keim said the pandemic has been “devastating” for the business, which is down 75 percent in revenue compared to the year before.
“... when this all happened back in last March, we thought it was only going to be for a couple months,” he said, “and then when we reopened in June we thought all these big blockbusters were coming in July. Well, then they get pushed back and pushed back.”
Keim noted the business depends on new movie content, which continues to be delayed, and the ability for people to assemble, which isn’t occurring due to COVID-19.
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There were recent rumors that the Keims were closing or selling the Bison 6 Cinema.
“I heard it, my parents (Darlene and Lyman Keim, Bison 6 Cinema owner) have heard it,” he said.
Cory Keim took to social media to tell people the rumors weren’t true. But he noted that there are theaters in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota that have closed permanently since the pandemic began.
The Bison 6 Cinema took steps to continue operating.
“We’ve reduced our payroll and we’ve been only charging $5 for the tickets because we had more of the older, retro movies,” Keim said.
The later movie showing was also cut temporarily and is expected to return next spring, Keim said.
Curbside popcorn sales did well for a short time but then drifted off, Keim said. He said showing older films brought in some people but it hasn’t made a big difference.
“It was fun and everybody was excited to see some of the old movies on the big screen again,” he said. “There was a lot of parents bringing their kids that have never experienced it (the movie) on the big screen.”
He said the Bison 6 Cinema has had a few new national releases in the last month but the “big blockbuster” movies are important to their business. Ticket prices will return to pre-pandemic levels starting Christmas Day, Keim said.
“On Christmas Day we start three new movies,” he said. “One is ‘Wonder Woman’. The other one is ‘News of the World’ with Tom Hanks and another movie called ‘Promising Young Woman.’”
The Keims also own the Valley Twin Cinema in Valley City, which has not shown movies since its initial closure in March. Cory Keim said the Valley City theater sells popcorn curbside, though, and has some regular customers for the product.
“It doesn’t pay all the bills but it’s helping and we’re just going to get through it until March and hopefully have all the new movies then and reopen Valley City,” he said.
Bison 6 Cinema
Emily Bivens, executive director of the Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce, says the Bison 6 Cinema fills a key role in Jamestown.
“As a community, I would say that it plays a large part of our quality of life piece,” she said. “... We’re kind of right in between big and small (towns) and having a movie theater of our size with six screens is pretty cool. We are very fortunate to have them.”
The Bison 6 Cinema will mark the 10-year anniversary of its opening in June of 2021. There are six individual theaters with a different seating capacity in each and more than 800 seats total.
Steps have been taken to make the theater experience a safe one during the pandemic, Keim says.
“I think the theater is one of the safest places to go outside of your home,” Keim said. “People are sitting down, facing forward, they’re all facing the same direction, not face to face, not talking.”
People spend 5 minutes or less getting their tickets and concessions, he said. They wear masks, except when eating food and drinking a beverage. The number of sellable seats was reduced to provide more distance between moviegoers, and showtimes were staggered to reduce congestion in the commons area. They are also cleaning and disinfecting all touchpoint areas, he said.
Keim expects to see more blockbuster movies next spring. The recent news that Warner Bros. was going to release films and stream them the same day is concerning, he said.
“They’re going to release all their movies for 2021 in the theater and streaming at the same time,” he said. “You need to have that product in the theaters first before you stream it or put it out anywhere. It’s going to lose the value of the movie. It’s not going to do as much. It’s going to hurt the industry totally if it continues. Hopefully, it is a one-year thing and hopefully, no other film companies decide to do the same thing.”