You may be stuck watching movies from your couch at home instead of an honest-to-goodness movie theater, but starting Friday you can wash down a tub of authentic theater popcorn with an ice-cold slushie from the concession counter at Classic Cinemas at the North Riverside Park Mall, 7501 Cermak Road.
On May 8, all Classic Cinemas locations, except for the Lake Theatre in Oak Park, will be selling popcorn, drinks, candy and other concessions, which will be available for curbside service pickup.
Like other businesses deemed “non-essential” in Illinois, all movie theaters in the state closed their doors to the public on March 17, when the governor’s stay-at-home order went into effect.
But on May 1, when the state began allowing non-essential businesses to re-open if they could offer customers curbside service for pre-ordered goods, Classic Cinemas recalled their temporarily idled front-line employees, even if the company couldn’t yet open the doors to its theaters.
“We made a commitment to bring everyone back May 1,” said Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson. “As far as managers and everybody else, I didn’t want to furlough anyone and then try to bring everybody back. At the end of the day, we’re still a small company and it felt like the right thing to do.”
A limited crew will be taking and fulfilling orders from the concession counter at the North Riverside Luxury 6 on Monday through Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m., on Fridays from 3 to 8 p.m., on Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
You can order items online – the North Riverside location also offers to-go alcoholic beverages with ID – at classiccinemas.com/togo or by calling the North Riverside Luxury 6 at 708-442-9209 during operating hours. You can’t place an order by leaving a voicemail, however.
According to the Classic Cinemas website, customers can’t use Classic Rewards or gift cards for concessions purchases, and the theater chain’s usual policy of offering free refills for popcorn and fountain drinks does not apply to the curbside service.
Once you arrive at the mall, phone the theater and let them know you’re there. A staff member wearing a mask and gloves will bring your order to your vehicle. Patrons are asked to park near the Classic Cinemas pylon sign in the east parking lot, just north of the food court wing of the mall.
If you get a sudden craving and phone up on the spur of the moment, you can also phone in, but you may have to wait a few minutes for your order to be fulfilled. Customers should also be wearing facemasks, as required while in the parking lots of retail businesses by the village of North Riverside’s emergency declaration.
While the sale of concessions on a to-go basis won’t replace the revenue the theater chain gets from ticket sales to movies, it’s at least a way to create a source of income for a business that hadn’t had any for seven weeks.
“Just having to pay rent and not having any income is a tough situation,” Johnson said. “Until Friday, we haven’t brought in a penny since March 16.”
And once movie theaters do get the go-ahead to reopen it’s unclear at what capacity they’ll be able to operate.
Just prior to the shutdown in March, Classic Cinemas had adopted a policy of selling no more tickets than 60-percent of the theater’s capacity and required groups of patrons to maintain distance from one another.
Still, movie production companies are beginning to plan for summer releases, the biggest of which will be the action-thriller “Tenet,” which is scheduled to begin its movie house run on July 17.
“It looks like we’ll be getting new titles on June 1, a couple of warmup acts for ‘Tenet,'” Johnson said, adding there’s some doubt Chicago-area theaters will be able to open by that date.
Johnson is president of the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Theater Owners, which has written to Gov. J.B. Pritzker seeking guidance on protocols for reopening.
“We’re analyzing that, trying to figure out next steps,” Johnson said.
One thing he pandemic has done, however, is it has forced Classic Cinemas to pump the brakes on its plan to double the size of the North Riverside Luxury 6 by building an addition to the north of the food court wing.
“We’ve got to see when we get to reopen and what it will look like,” Johnson said. “It is still something I want to do, and we will do it if we have the means and wherewithal to do it.
“I still believe the North Riverside Mall is actually a gem in the mall space, in that it still drives a lot of traffic and serves the community. We were having a great year.”