This holiday season Wayne county theaters are bouncing back better than ever


The Penn Theatre’s marquee brightly illuminating to attract patrons.

The holiday season is an infamous time for consumer spending. In 2019 alone, holiday sales surpassed 1 trillion dollars according to CloudWays. And every household spent an average of 1,536 dollars on popular items like toys, games, consumer packaged goods and health and beauty products.

But goods are not the only expenditure during the holidays. Services such as going to the movies are also popular. Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic blockbuster titles such as West Side Story, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The King’s Man, The Matrix Resurrections and Sing 2 still managed to perform well in the box office in 2021 this holiday season.

Despite the 145,057,659 dollars in total gross among last year’s blockbusters as of December of last year, some theaters still experienced decreases in attendance, especially in the Wayne County community.

The director of the nonprofit Friends of the Penn and owner of the Penn Theatre, Ellen Elliott, said that COVID has had a major impact on regular patron attendance. “COVID has really affected our attendance. So, it’s a couple things. One, it’s people I don’t think are fully comfortable coming in and sitting in a place for a couple hours with a group of people they don’t know,” said Elliott.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and theater patrons’ health concerns, the movie industry has been adjusting their release schedules which have subsequently caused decreases in patrons’ interest which is concerning Elliott the most going into 2022. “The other thing is, in the movie industry, they are adjusting their release schedule because they realize that people aren’t coming, which basically means you don’t have a lot to choose from. So in terms of titles and movie selections, that’s not helped either,” said Elliott.

Decreases in attendance are not discouraging theaters, however. Theaters are pulling out all the stops to attract more people to visit their theaters. Westland’s MJR Grand Cinema 16 has started implementing new marketing strategies to reach patrons according to Marketing Director Erik Gubert. “We’ve increased our online presence with active social media advertising, email communications, etc,” said Gubert.

Elliott used more creative methods to attract patrons last year. Other than the appeal of blockbuster titles, the Penn Theatre hosted their annual month-long holiday event where they exclusively display classic holiday films.

Elliott has also been fortunate to have support from the community. “So the advantage that we have as a nonprofit organization is that we can fundraise to offset those shortfalls that we see with our operating income. And we have seen wonderful, tremendous support,” said Elliott.

All things considered, Elliott and Gubert are holding their heads up. Theaters in the area are agreeing that if everything goes as planned summertime 2022 looks like the prime time for movies. “So we have a lot of dialogue with theaters all across the country. And we kind of all are in agreement that you know, summertime 2022, we all feel like that’s when we’re going to have this, this kind of return to normal, but we could be wrong,” said Elliott.

Elliot in particular is very confident that their little single-auditorium historical gem will endure for a long time. “So you know, you see across the country, small theaters like ours, and larger chains have closed because of COVID,” said Elliot. That didn’t happen here. And it’s not going to happen here. We’re going to be around for a very, very long time.”