Alexander Padilla (left) of Cicero, shows a photo of his COVID-19 vaccination card to Classic Cinemas employee Andre Coleman on Jan. 3 at the North Riverside XQ Theater at North Riverside Park Mall. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

Coming off a two-month stretch during which people have flocked back to local movie theaters, Classic Cinemas will institute the proof-of-vaccination protocol at its movie theaters in Cook County, including the Lake Theatre in Oak Park and at the North Riverside Park Mall per mandates from health officials at the count and municipal levels.

The mandate went into effect effective Jan. 3 at the North Riverside XQ complex and is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 10 at the Lake Theatre in Oak Park. Because Oak Park has its own health department, the village is not bound by the Jan. 3 date mandated by the Cook County Department of Public Health.

“We’re going to do it, but it is a burden,” said Chris Johnson, CEO of Classic Cinemas, which operates 14 movie houses in northern Illinois and one in Beloit, Wisconsin. Just three of the theaters are within suburban Cook County.

“We’re good citizens and it makes a challenging situation a little bit more challenging, but we’re here for the long term,” Johnson said.

Movie theater staff Giovanni Rodriguez (left) and Andre Coleman look over customers’ COVID-19 vaccination cards and identification on Jan. 3 at the Classic Cinemas location at the North Riverside Park Mall. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

One of the challenges is that many theatergoers purchase their tickets online in advance in order to avoid lines. Now those customers will have to wait in line to have their vaccine status checked as well.

“On the one hand you want to avoid congestion, but this unfortunately will increase lines,” said Johnson who said additional employees will be at the ticket-taking station to check vaccine documentation and IDs. “It’d be amazingly easier if there was a cohesive system.”

Like other businesses affected by the mandate, Classic Cinemas will accept actual cards, photos of cards or other digital proof of vaccine status and cross check those with personal identification, like a driver’s license or state ID, if a patron is 16 or older. For younger patrons, that’s a little more difficult.

As for employees having to deal with people who resist the mandate and want a confrontation. Johnson said he believed that those who are unvaccinated will avoid showing up, knowing the mandate is in place and that the business is enforcing it.

“The majority of people are rule-followers, whatever the rules are,” Johnson said. “There’s always a small percentage of people who try to get away with something, but the majority of the public is pretty good.”

The biggest hurdle is simply staffing theaters sufficiently to make sure vaccine proof checks move smoothly. Johnson called that aspect of the mandate “the killer.”

“We’re having problems getting enough staff, so this is a crusher,” Johnson said. “I’d love to hire more people. This absolutely takes more staff and will cost money to implement.”

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