The Fox theatre, operating in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood since 1914, sees light at the end of the pandemic tunnel

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It’s been over a month since the venerable Fox Theater reopened its doors and, not unexpectedly, it’s been a challenge.

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The 251-seat, single-screen theater can operate at only 50 per cent capacity, while subject to physical distancing guidelines.

“With social distancing there’s no way to hit 50 percent, so capacity drops substantially,” said co-owner Andy Willick. “So far it has been fine. We are nowhere near the regular revenue that can be expected at this point.”

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But Willick is cautiously optimistic, despite two major issues – a lack of new films to be released since the pandemic and a reluctance of moviegoers – that the theatre, open since 1914, has a future in the beach community. This is in large part due to the “community engagement” efforts that employees have made during the long lockdown.

“We came up with different ideas on how to generate revenue and keep people engaged with theaters during the lockdown. It was boring for everyone, so we did anything to keep people interested,” Willick said.

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In April 2020, patrons visiting every single seat in the theater were given the opportunity to have their names engraved on plaques. Seats sold out within days, despite the $150 fee, plus tax.

The theater also rents out its marquee for all kinds of special occasion announcements.

“It’s been a lot of anniversaries and birthdays. We also had a few marriage proposals,” said general manager Kristal Cooper.

On Saturday nights, the theater’s concession stand is open to the public, selling fresh popcorn, beer, and other items. Fox-branded merchandise was created—including T-shirts, tote bags, mugs and past-event posters—and proved popular with patrons.

Since re-opening for indoor screenings on August 6, the theater has given audience members the chance to rent the theater for parties customized with a choice of film.

A couple rented a theater to watch the first film in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; Three teens booked it in for an Andrei Tarkovsky film — which Cooper found “hilarious” — and there have been large groups of between 10 and 20.

“Community has always been associated with theatre. We are always looking for ways to stay connected with the community,” Cooper said.

Fox reopened between August and October of last year before closing again. Cooper said patrons were not as comfortable at the time in the closed indoor space of a movie theater. Luckily this is changing.

“I think the implementation of the Vaccine Passport should be positive in terms of attendance,” Willick said, referring to the provincial system that will come into force from 22 September.

“There’s been a lot of concern from customers and people are talking about what we’re doing in terms of testing people for vaccines,” Willick said, adding that all theater workers have been vaccinated and safety protocols in place.

“I’m looking forward to fall and winter. People are coming out of a period of extreme isolation. As soon as people get comfortable, I think we’ll see them come back.”

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