The Lake Theatre, operated by Classic Cinemas at 1022 Lake St. in downtown Oak Park, will blow the dust off their projectors and reopen their doors to the film-watching public on Thursday, April 15.
Crippled by mitigations imposed by the state to limit the spread of COVID-19, the theaters seven screens have been dark since mid-March 2020. Major road reconstruction on Lake Street through most of 2020 added to the complications.
But, when the doors reopen next month, said Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson, they’re staying open.
“I have no plans of re-closing,” said Johnson. With Hollywood delaying new film releases because movie houses in New York and Los Angeles were closed, Johnson determined second-run movies were not the solution.
“It’s been super tough,” Johnson said. “In many ways it was the worst possible of all situations, but the good news is that we’re going to be able to make it to the other side.”
Shanon Williams, executive director of Downtown Oak Park, said, “We’re so excited. It’s a sign that things are returning back to normal. They are a staple in this community and we are thrilled they will be reopening.”
Shawn Weakliss, known to Lake Theatre regulars as its main ticket taker, tipped off social media followers last week that good news was coming. “I will be able to go back to work in April. I’m going back to the Lake Theatre. I’m going back home,” he wrote on Facebook.
New York’s movie theaters were given the go ahead to reopen last week and Los Angeles theaters are slated to reopen March 19.
While Johnson was able to reopen most of the chain’s theaters late last June, the Lake remained closed due to a major road and streetscape improvement project that shut down traffic in the downtown district.
In July, Classic Cinemas pulled the plug on its summer reopening at all of its theaters and furloughed the company’s employees. Johnson said he maintained contact with employees throughout the past eight months, updating them on possible reopening dates (some of which fell through) and soliciting feedback from them.
The good news from the staffing perspective, said Johnson, is that all of the company’s theater managers are returning along with many employees.
“We had enthusiastic support from our employees, and that was great because we were worried about that,” Johnson said. “They’ve been way too nice, kind and understanding. We’re ready to go.”
Although Hollywood is still tweaking its release schedule and at least one blockbuster that was supposed to open this spring in theaters got sold to Netflix, Johnson said there are other draws that will be coming out in April and May, including “Mortal Kombat” and “Black Widow.” Another movie that had been delayed until September, “Quiet Place 2,” has been moved back to May, and “Top Gun” is slated to open July 2.
“It’s enough to get going,” Johnson said.
The theaters will be operating under some COVID-19 mitigations, including a requirement that patrons wear face coverings. The theaters will limit capacity based on state guidelines and parties will be socially distanced from one another.
Johnson said he’s hopeful that the governor will ease the capacity limits to allow for more than 50 patrons in spaces that can accommodate them safely.
“I absolutely am ready,” Johnson said. “The outpouring of support has been fantastic and I share the belief that people will get out of the house and return to the theaters.”