In the feature interview from this week’s episode of the Boxoffice Podcast, co-hosts Rebecca Pahle and Daniel Loria chat with Vanessa Amsbury-Bonilla, co-owner of the Peterborough Community Theatre, the oldest theater in the state of New Hampshire. Upon deciding to reopen their doors in the summer of 2021, Amsbury-Bonilla reached out to her cinema’s patrons, many of whom are in an older age bracket, to find out what would make them feel safe in returning to the cinema. “The number one thing that people asked for was proof-of-vaccination only showings, over and over and over again,” says Amsbury-Bonilla.
With vaccination-only screenings on the rise—either voluntarily, as chosen by individual theaters, or mandated by government authorities, as in the case of France, Italy, and New York City—Amsbury-Bonilla speaks about the implementation of such screenings at the Peterborough and how they’ve improved her business and allowed the cinema to stay open.
Below is an abbreviated transcript of the conversation with Amsbury-Bonilla; for the entire discussion, plus insights on Candyman‘s opening weekend box office and a forecast for Labor Day weekend release Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, check out the latest episode of the Boxoffice Podcast on Spotify, Apple, or your podcast platform of choice.
Could you take us back to the initial reopening of the Peterborough and how you began communicating with your audience as to what they were comfortable with?
There was a feeling in my mind that it was time to reopen, looking at the numbers here in New Hampshire. Seeing that things were getting closer to a comfort level, the numbers were going down, everything was looking like, “Hey, summer’s coming!” I maintain a database of email list of about 1,000 addresses, and that’s how I announce, for the most part, which movie I’m getting for the next week. I know that it’s really helpful for my customers. Well, I used that email list to reach out to them when I was getting ready to open. I asked them, “Will you fill out a little survey?” I threw together a little Google Form survey [that was sent out in June 2021]. And out of the 1,000 plus emails that got sent out, I ended up with 230 responses. Those 230 responses were really valuable to me, because it gave me an idea of where people were at, which is what we needed. We needed to know, is this a good time to open? Or should we just keep doing the rentals as we’ve been doing for a year and a half? Which is a viable business model, but it’s a lot of work for a lot less money. The thing that was overwhelming in those responses was that the number one thing that people asked for was proof-of-vaccination only showings, over and over and over again.
Once you knew that’s what your customers wanted, how did you approach that concept?
The next step for me after I got all of those responses and was able to see what people wanted was, well, can I do this? Is it legal? Are there going to be problems with this? You know what? A quick Google search gave me all the answers that I needed. I found out instantly via Google search that this is not in violation of any kind of HIPAA laws. Once I had that answer, which was actually pretty easy to find, I just did it. When I sent out my next email, I let them know that we were reopening on July 2. That I appreciated the responses I got from my survey. And that we would be setting aside one day a week [for vax-only screenings]. We called it Safer Sundays. It was a good day, I figured, because it wasn’t the most popular day of the week. I offered Safer Sundays as an experiment, and I let people know it was an experiment, through my email correspondence and Facebook and all that. “Let’s see how this works. Let’s see what happens.” What I discovered over the month of July is that 75 percent of my business was coming in on [Sunday].
Some of the concerns we’re hearing with vaccine requirements for movies are “What about kids too young to get vaccinated?” Or “what about people with medical conditions, where they can’t get vaccinated?” Have you run into those questions?
Yeah. People on the Facebook page—I’ve replied to each and every one of them, for anyone who has a medical concern, who can’t get vaccinated for whatever reason. I completely understand their frustration and where they’re at. And the thing is, we’re still open to include them, too. Keeping in mind that even though we’ve added one more “Safer” day, which is now Thursday, they can come to the movies on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. What we’ve done, in essence, is just allowed more choices for everyone. We’ve not discriminated against anyone. They can still come to the movies. They can come on those other days. And there’s room for them as well. It’s a way of being able to include everyone.