After a long hiatus, movies aren’t just coming soon, they are coming now. Penn Ketchum, owner of Penn Cinema, reflects on the pandemic and looks forward to the return of moviegoers
I’m not ashamed to admit that entering Penn Cinema several weeks ago for the first time in nearly 16 months, I was giddy at the prospect of seeing a movie in a movie theater. I believe that movie-going gap is the longest period of time I hadn’t set foot in a movie theater in more than 45 years. I was not a happy camper.
Like everyone else, I made do with streaming films during the pandemic, but as soon as we were fully vaccinated, I was ready for the IRL cinema experience. In truth, the movie itself – Those Who Wish Me Dead – was nothing to get excited about, but still sitting there in my reclining seat watching Angelina Jolie’s face 12 feet high was enough.
Like virtually all indoor venues, Penn Cinema has been mostly closed by COVID-19 since March 2020. Now that many restrictions on public gatherings have been lifted in Delaware, owner Penn Ketchum is eagerly awaiting the return of movies and moviegoers to Penn Cinema on the Riverfront. This movie reviewer and fan, similarly thwarted from his cinematic obsessions, spoke with Ketchum about the pandemic and the re-emergence of the movie industry after such a long hiatus.
How did you and Penn Cinema get through the pandemic?
With a lot of hope. Like everybody, all our struggles were related to finances. It’s hard to pay bills when you have no revenue. But, the owners put money into the business, and our vendors were very flexible. We’re going to come out the other side OK. It helps to realize that the challenge we faced was universal. We felt we weren’t alone, and that made us feel just a little bit better.
How is Penn Cinema positioned now to re-emerge?
The business itself has not been changed by the pandemic, but we have now normalized the process of renting the theaters for private use. We have private screenings almost every day; businesses and even families renting the theater. We figured out how to do that, and I suspect that will continue after the pandemic.
Is the greater use of at-home streaming going to affect the movie theater business?
A lot of people believe that the industry has changed, but that’s not accurate. For patrons, the value proposition of a night at the movies is getting out of the house. That’s unchanged. And, studios are only driven by making money, which is good for me, because when they make money, we make money. Big movies are only profitable when they are released to theaters, so I guarantee that will continue to happen. I do think that the savviest studios have learned that they can actually leverage interest for their next theatrical release by streaming other, related content. Advanced sales for Black Widow are really strong, and I think that’s because of the various Marvel TV series.
Are you seeing different behavior from audiences?
I do think that people are more sensitive to the idea of [being in] a big crowd than they were before. Patrons are calling and asking about what nights might be a little less busy. That’s good for us, because there is always going to be a crowd Saturday night at 7.
Are you seeing audiences coming back?
Yes, Of course, the bigger the movie, the bigger the audience. That was true before the pandemic, and it still is. After so much isolation, I think that people want to reconnect over this shared interest. We hear from people coming into Penn Cinema that they have really missed the community of movie-going.