Washington, Iowa, can be considered lucky when it comes to the bigger picture of the Covid-19 pandemic. This rural town with just over 7,000 inhabitants in the American federal state in the Midwest has so far registered only 11 deaths, at a time when this vicious virus killed more than 550,000 Americans and infected more than 30 million of them across the country. However, Washington was not spared other consequences of Covid-19 – the economic ones.
And one of the biggest victims of the corona crisis could soon become the place that made this town famous: the State Theater, officially recognized in 2016 in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest movie theater in the world, which has been operating without interruption since May 14, 1897.
Impact of the pandemic all over
The coronavirus has ravaged the entire film industry, not just the big Hollywood players. It has influenced everything, from film production to the operation of cinemas around the world. For example, Cineworld, one of the largest cinema chains in the world, temporarily closed all cinemas in the United States and Great Britain in October last year. The decision followed the news of an additional postponement of another big premiere – a new James Bond movie No Time to Die.
Inevitably, the shock wave reached rural America as well. Russell Vannorsdel, vice president of the Fridley Theaters, the company that owns the mentioned State Theater, said the situation was bleak.
It survived the Great Depression and Netflix…
He said that it is not known what will be done if Hollywood does not make new films. Vannorsdel, who has worked in the film industry for 30 years and started with an ordinary concession stand in one of Fridley’s cinemas, believes that the pandemic proved to be the most difficult test that the State Theater has encountered since it first opened its doors to visitors 124 years ago.
It has survived various threats such as the Great Depression, the financial crisis of 2008, and the arrival of home videos and streaming platforms like Netflix. It even overcame fire that broke out in 2010, forcing this 300-seat movie theater to close for several months. That is why Vannorsdel is wondering how many more blows he and all the people in this business can endure at all, stressing they cannot live with a loss every week forever.
Revenues from the box office at the State Theater fell by 70 % in 2020, even after cinemas in Iowa were allowed to reopen in May. Nevertheless, Fridley kept all employees on a regular salary, even when the days when the cinema was open were limited to Fridays and weekends only. In the absence of new film hits, the only cinema screen in State Theater was used to broadcast sporting events and screen older films, as well as for private events.
During the two months that the State Theater was closed as part of the isolation measures in Iowa, one of the solutions to mitigate the consequences was to start a service of popcorn home delivery. The cinema has a famous popcorn machine that has been operating since 1948. The community was amazing at how much they supported this.
The protest saved it once
It was not the first time that Washington residents gathered to defend the State Theater, the only cinema within 30 miles of downtown. After the fire in 2010, Fridley announced that the building would be demolished and replaced with a new multiplex. Instead, the protests led to a detailed reconstruction of the old cinema, which is cited as one of Iowa’s tourist attractions. But its future is clearly in question as the entire film industry faces unprecedented times.
Ticket sales at box offices worldwide plummeted by almost 70 % in 2020 compared to the previous year, affecting all major markets. China, which was supposed to overtake the United States as the world’s largest cinema box office in 2020, suffered a 66 % drop in ticket sales. India, home to the Bollywood production industry, saw a 75 % drop.
Drop after a record year for global cinema box office
It is estimated that Hollywood experienced a drop in revenue from the box office by at least 65 %. There are no rosy predictions for 2021 either, and the film industry should be worried because 2020 was a catastrophic year and the pandemic is still doing damage. Some cinemas thought of the idea of combining gambling experience and watching movies under their roofs as a means of returning pre-Covid revenues. And, even though online casinos (and we mean those with games of the best providers, such as Relax Gaming, whose features are listed over here) are taking a significant share of the gambling market today, this is not such a bad idea to recover a portion of earnings these venues lost due to pandemic, given that land-based casinos still kept their charm.
Still, the bigger picture provides some reason for hope. Despite the growing number of people who started using streaming services, 2019 was a record year for cinemas around the world as they earned more than $ 42 billion. When all this with the corona is over, there will indeed be cinema closures and difficulties but people who love cinema will be willing to return to it. Some research shows that the number of people appreciating the ‘big screen experience’ for new movies is bigger compared to those who watch them at home.