OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The opening of the newest theater in the metro area should have been a big hit.
ACX Cinema 12 has the largest commercial movie screen in the state of Nebraska but the pandemic postponed its grand opening and once it did open its doors, it struggled to stay open.
"We opened up to really poor numbers. Most theaters have been running less than 10% of normal. It wasn't until last week when a film called Godzilla vs. Kong opened up that we bumped up a little bit," said Bill Barstow, owner of Aksarben Cinemas.
Hollywood also shut down and stopped making films.
They also lost a few films to streaming.
With the new cinema safe program, they are hoping more and more people will feel comfortable heading back to the theaters.
"To watch people start coming back, I actually walked out onto the parking lot, I took a picture of people walking, getting out of their cars and walking to the front doors, it just had a really cool look," said Barstow.
When they switched to reclining chairs, they removed more than 60% of their seating so they already had good spacing between rows.
You can buy tickets at the on-site kiosks or purchase online all to avoid the crowds.
"When you purchase your ticket online you can actually see the seat map and see where other people are sitting already and the algorithm will block out a seat on either side of you," said Barstow.
Barstow added that while some theaters closed for good, being a local company and having strong relationships with their landlords and bankers really helped them out.
He said they also had to become lobbyists.
"We would work the phones for many hours a day talking to congressional offices, senatorial offices, anybody we could talk to, to tell our story and why we needed assistance and some sort of policy assistance to help us get through what we were going through," said Barstow.
The loyalty of some of their best customers also proved to be invaluable.
"The seats not only recline, they are heated seats, they have the most unbelievable concession stand, the popcorn is perfect, you can't have better popcorn than here. They have everything from sangria slushies and they now have full service so they wait on you, so it's perfect," said visitor Andrea Christensen.
But some things the theater started doing during the peak of the pandemic are here to stay.
"We still sell a lot of popcorn to-go for families that are having movie night at home," said Barstow.
Although they have been open since August with a full restaurant, bar and an outdoor movie theater with a fire pit, they are holding off on an official grand opening.
“When Fast and Furious 9 opens on June 25th we are blowing this one out," said Barstow.
Visit their website here.