Historic Theater Attempts to Stay Afloat Through Pandemic

Mackenzie Moore, News Editor

When COVID-19 struck the United States in the spring, movie theaters began to close their doors. While many appear concerned for the well-being of large movie theater chains, those in smaller towns are hoping their local theaters manage to make it through the pandemic. Bonham Theatre and Video in Sauk Prairie is one such case.

Connie Henry, the owner of the family-owned theater, remembers her first concerns once the pandemic hit the country. Outside of worrying for the medical safety of others, she wondered how long Bonham Theatre would be closed, how she could keep valuable staff, how movie releases and the supply chain would be impacted, and, of course, how the theater would make it through the tough times ahead.

Henry, a former nurse, has made sure that Bonham Theater not only meets, but exceeds the Cinema Safe guidelines. In the main level cinema, every other row is taped off to allow eight to nine feet of distancing between groups. After each show, the available seats are sanitized.

On the lower level, which has smaller cinemas, only the front and back seating rows can be used. Like the main level, each seat is sanitized between shows.

Other precautions include paying extra attention to sanitizing bathrooms, handrails, and counters, 7-foot distancing markers in the lobby, requiring masks, making hand sanitizer available all around the building and required upon entry, and cleaning each disc case when rentals are returned. Additionally, the HVAC system has been upgraded.

Since Bonaham Theatre was able to reopen on June 12, attendance has been down 75 percent from 2019; revenue is down 81 percent due to offering cheaper tickets for classic movie showings. However, these numbers are slowly starting to improve with the introduction of new movies.

In April, the theater introduced curbside concessions and rentals; this continued once people were allowed to enter the building in May. Like other theaters, Bonham also offers private shows for groups who want to avoid contracting COVID-19 from the public.

Still, Bonham Theatre and Video has not been completely on its own over the past several months. Connie Henry recalls customers telling her to “keep the change.” The movie theater also received a loan from the Village of Prairie du Sac and a grant from the Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce.

One of the more recent heartwarming events happened on Halloween. As a substitute for trick-or-treating, a family came in and each kid was allowed to pick four candies. Not only did this make the kids feel better about missing a holiday tradition, but they were able to support a local business in the process.

For those who grew up in Sauk Prairie, the 100-year-old theater is more than another building along the strip.

When asked why she thinks this is, Henry said “The building and main theater have a historic ambiance that gives a unique experience to patrons . . . It is a family run small business instead of a corporation.”

Additionally, Henry credits the theater’s longevity to good customer service, cleanliness and prices significantly lower than those of larger theaters.

To see how theaters like Bonham Theatre and Video can be helped, go to https://saveyourcinema.com/