By Matthew Rodriguez
From providing a livelihood for his family for three generations to the first three dates with his wife, movies have played a major role for Greg Laemmle.
“Some of the greatest experience of my life has revolved around movies,” said Laemmle, the president of the theater chain bearing the family name. “My wife and I saw two bad movies on our first two dates and a great movie on our third date. I think after that great movie experience, we knew we were getting married.
“There are so many things that are in my life that relate, in big and small ways, to that experience of being in that environment and seeing great art. It is the great art of the 20th century and hopefully the great art of the 21st century.”
Mandated by Los Angeles County, Laemmle had to close all of the theaters as the threat of the pandemic loomed over the Los Angeles area. That meant the number of employees across the eight theaters dropped from 150 to just five. Although he supported the mandate, it was still painful for Laemmle to close the doors of the family business, which has been open since World War II.
“We had to make a bunch of hard decisions very quickly,” he said. “I’ll always hope that I made the right decisions.”
Luckily, after being closed for a year, the theater chain made it out to the other side. As numbers of COVID-19 cases fall in Los Angeles County, moving the region to the orange tier, movie theaters like Laemmle can reopen.
Effective April 5, the LA County and Pasadena Public Health Department allowed the reopening of indoor movie theaters at 50% capacity per auditorium. Laemmle announced that it will reopen six locations, including the one in Pasadena, the following Friday, April 9. Although much of the equipment has been mothballed and major maintenance must be done of the theaters, Laemmle is excited to provide the same movie-going experience that helped him find his significant other.
“I’m excited. This is what we do, what we live for and I want to get back to it,” Laemmle said. “To give people that social experience to guide their week is important… We’re excited to bring it back and hopefully, our customers, whether [they’re] early adopters or not, will want it back as well.”
To prepare the facilities for reopening, Laemmle rehired its longtime general managers to fix equipment, such as the all-important projectors, and to set up the appropriate equipment to provide a safe viewing experience for their guests.
After a year of unemployment, general manager Geoff Waugaman has been working tirelessly to prepare the Laemmle in Pasadena for reopening.
“Basically, nothing has been touched in our buildings for over a year now,” Waugaman said. “There are a million light bulbs to change, popcorn poppers to turn back on and ice machines to clean. It’s a lot of maintenance so far in the last week. (But) you can’t sit on unemployment forever and you want to get back to work, obviously.”
To ensure the safety of its patrons, Laemmle is following all of the CinemaSafe protocols such as masks, reduced capacity, providing HVAC air filtration and cleaning after every screening.
Masks can only be removed when they are eating or drinking.
It will take some time for movie goers to feel comfortable in theaters and Laemmle knows that.
“We know it will take time where people are back and they feel comfortable coming back,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to a place where they don’t think twice about it.”