The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on local movie theaters. Malverne Cinema & Art Center co-owners Henry and Anne Stampfel described the past year as an emotional and financial roller coaster ride. The theater was closed for much of 2020. It reopened last October, but was forced to close again on Jan. 14 because business was slow.
“It just could not sustain,” Anne recounted. “It was costing more for us to be open, between payroll, heating and oil bills and other expenses. Even when we did reopen on Oct. 23, the amount of people coming to the cinema during the winter months had dwindled.” She and her husband had even negotiated on phone and internet bills, among other expenses, to find ways to reduce costs.
The theater, which is set to reopen on Friday, has since been open only for private rentals. “That carried us, but we had to loan the businesses some money,” Anne said, “because property taxes were still in full force and we didn’t get any reprieves from the county or the state.”
The Stampfels, who own two other movie theaters in Nassau County — Bellmore Movies and North Shore Towers, in Floral Park — said they had applied for numerous grants, including the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants through the Small Business Administration, but none of them came through. Henry said that while local businesses have also supported the theater, it is difficult for that kind of support to continue.
“You have to understand that lending money to a movie theater is a very ominous thing to do right now, because you don’t when that’s going to come back,” Henry said. “To this day, we don’t how many people are willing to come back into a theater. It would be nice to see our theaters continue to live on and not be brought down by this pandemic.”
Malverne Chamber of Commerce President Kathi Monroe said that it was frightening to hear about the struggles of business owners in the village, including the Stampfels. She said she was hopeful, however, that the financial health of Malverne’s businesses would improve.
“I’m hoping that they’re able to move forward from the devastating losses that they suffered,” Monroe said of the Stampfels. “Most important, I hope the residents remember what it’s like not to have them, and support them so they can have a good, healthy business moving forward.”
Anne noted that it was a sad moment for them when their business neighbor on Hempstead Avenue, Erika Agoston, was forced to close the Malverne Diner in February. “That’s a little bit of a blow for us,” Anne said. “She’s been our neighbor and our friend, and we always piggybacked off each other, so we’re going back in there without her.”
The Stampfels said that the cinema would continue to follow the National Association of Theatre Owners’ health and safety guidelines, Cinema Safe, which many movie theaters have signed on to. The couple, who are vaccinated against Covid-19, said they hoped the increase in vaccinations would make residents feel safer about going back to the movies.
“Luckily we’ve had our health during this time,” Anne said. “Hopefully people have more confidence to come visit us and other businesses in the area. Everybody’s life got upended, and we just want the new normal to be a better normal.”