Cloquet locals have likely spent a good chunk of time watching films at Premiere Theatres.
Located along Highway 33 in Cloquet, the theater has consistently been a spot for recreational movie viewing in the area.
However, things have changed for movie theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading Premiere Theatres to take on a different business model, now offering private showings and off-sale concessions in place of being fully open. Owner Rick Stowell said he's done this to operate in a safe manner and avoid larger groups or mixed households as much as possible.
“Theaters are struggling,” he said.
The private screenings have been popular since their start in January, bringing in an average of one group every day, said Premiere Theatres employee Cary Neumann.
“It’s been catching on,” he said.
Each private screening session costs a minimum of $100, which goes towards paying theater staff, according to Stowell.
Typically, there will be a charge of less than $10 per person, depending on the concession package selected.
Occasionally, Stowell said couples will book the theater — paying $50 per person. In that case, he said he gives them all of the concessions they want.
Depending on how many people attend, the private screenings have the potential to bring in more than $100, but Stowell said he still gives all of the money to his staff regardless of how much it is. In fact, the theater may actually be losing money by offering private showings, but Stowell said he does it for the community and his employees.
“We’re not doing it for the theater, we’re doing it for … our staff,” he said.
Two managers work full-time at the theater, rotating shifts and only working together when bigger groups book a showing.
Stowell owns the building where the business is located, and rents it to other businesses. Because of this, he said Premiere Theatres will never go out of business.
“This theater isn’t going anywhere,” he said.
Stowell also credited state COVID-19 movie theater relief grants for keeping Premiere Theatres afloat.
Neumann has been working at Premiere Theatres since it opened in May 1994. Business levels and movie release dates have been very inconsistent throughout the pandemic, but he said he hopes to see the theater open to the public in the near future.
Premiere Theatres has tried various things throughout the year — curbside concessions, gift card sales, 25% capacity and now private screenings.
Currently, the business is not able to show new movies because film companies are not providing movie rights to theaters whose doors are not fully open, but Stowell said he hopes to open to the public March 5, with public showings Friday through Sunday and private showings Monday through Thursday.
He added that he is planning to convert to a full seven day schedule May 7.
The March 5 opening date, however, could be pushed back to April or May, according to Stowell, who said it all depends on release dates for new movies.
The date was chosen because a Disney movie, "Raya and the Last Dragon," is scheduled to drop that day, but Stowell said the release date for the movie could likely change.
He anticipates 2021 to eventually be packed with blockbuster movies once releases become more consistent, he said.