IPic Will Be Second Austin Cinema to Reopen
Local branch of luxury chain firing up starting June 11
By Richard Whittaker,
11:00AM, Tue. Jun. 9, 2020
National luxury cinema micro-chain iPic has announced that its Austin location will reopen this week, Thursday through Sunday – making it the second indoor theater open in the city during the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement follows the reopening in Austin last month of Southwest Theaters Lake Creek 7. These are the only indoor theaters currently operating within city limits, joined outside by the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In. All other theaters remain closed, as they have been since the beginning of the pandemic and current lockdown.
However, iPic Austin at the Domain will reopen on June 11 with a mixture of repertory screenings (such as Dirty Dancing and Jurassic Park) under its Flashback Cinema banner, and new openings (including the Judd Apatow/Pete Davidson collaboration, The King of Staten Island and music industry dramedy The High Note). It's actually going to be the third of iPic's 14 locations nationally to reopen, with its two other Texas sites (Fairview and Houston) starting screenings last weekend. However, its other 11 theaters, in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Washington and Wisconsin, remain shuttered.
• Everyone will receive a temperature check before entering; Staff will wear masks and gloves, and guests are encouraged to wear masks in common areas.
• Customers are encouraged to use online ticketing, and the theater is experimenting with contactless admissions.
• One-time use menus will be available, but customers will be encouraged to order online. Food will be served with single-use utensils and glassware.
• Sadly but inevitably, the in-theater blanket and pillow provision has been suspended.
Plexiglass screens are being installed at guest services and the express counters, and staff will ramp up cleaning of shared areas. The extra days of closure (Monday-Wednesday) will allow for deep cleaning.
Texas theaters have been allowed to open in limited capacity since May 1, when Gov. Greg Abbott let the statewide shelter-in-place mandate expire. As of June 3, the state allows theaters to operate at 50% capacity.
However, most chains and independent theaters have shown no interest in reopening. The industry consensus, lead by the chains, has been that it is pointless to open until there is new big-studio content, and it is unclear when that will happen (so far Christopher Nolan's Tenet is keeping to its announced July 17 date, but there is still broad doubt whether that is feasible). Many theaters (including AFS Cinema, Galaxy Highland, and Violet Crown in Austin) have switched over to "virtual cinema" VOD rental programs, while the Alamo Drafthouse has launched its new Alamo on Demand service as a permanent new component of its business model.
However, not everyone has been able to weather the storm. Locally, Sky Cinemas at Dripping Springs closed in May after the double-whammy of the coronavirus closure and a rent dispute with its landlord. On the national scene, the future of the massive AMC Theater chain is in flux. Last month, management of the world's biggest cinema chain (which runs three locations in Austin alone) wrote in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that they may not have the cash reserves to reopen.
Founded in 2006 as a way to bring the kind of in-seat luxury service cinema that had become common across Asia to the U.S., iPic has struggled in recent years. The owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2019, only two years after a catastrophic IPO, before being sold to iPic Theaters, LLC, an investment vehicle backed by the Teachers' Retirement System of Alabama and the Employees' Retirement System of Alabama.