Movie lovers, employees revel in Capitol Theatre’s reopening in Eagle: ‘Feels like we never left’
Owner of Eagle Ranch cinema thanks Sen. Michael Bennet for support during shutdown
The Capitol Theatre in Eagle is ramping up to pre-COVID-19 attendance levels, building renewed faith among theater ownership and loyal patrons that the cinema industry is here to stay.
As the months of the COVID-19 pandemic stretched on and other local businesses scrambled to tweak business models to retain revenue, Eagle’s Capitol Theatre remained shuttered from March 2020 until just two weeks ago.
In the meantime, sweatpants became the collective uniform and streaming services tightened their grip on the public’s consumption of movies, leading some to speculate that the pandemic could mean the end of movie theaters altogether.
In an active community like Eagle County, where the mountains are always calling, some thought movie theaters were unlikely to be successful well before screens went dark for a year.
All of this weighed on the mind of Capitol Theatre owner Steve Lindstrom, of course, but the cinema industry has persevered through a century’s worth of changes and he said he’s not ready to give up yet.
“It’s a pretty old industry,” Lindstrom said. “It’s a hundred and 20 years old. Movie, cinemas have gone through a lot of things.”
Movie theaters pushed through the 1918 pandemic and the Great Depression. They remained relevant through the advent of countless new forms of entertainment from the mainstreaming of radio broadcast to television to home video and DVDs to the internet and “on demand” streaming services, he said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly made for a difficult year for cinemas and the entertainment industry at large, Lindstrom said he went into Capitol Theatre’s reopening with a positive mindset.
“A lot of theaters probably won’t be able to reopen and there’ll still be a lot of things being streamed online and on cable, but I think there will still be a demand for movie theaters, local theaters for people to get out and go do something,” he said.
Some may be more comfortable watching movies from the comfort of their home, but those same people surely remember their first date at the cinema as teenagers when they escaped the prying eyes of parents to hold hands as the theater went dark. They remember the smell of freshly-popped popcorn and the thrilling exclusivity that midnight releases brought.
Going out to the movies is something special, novel, Eagle resident Grace Anshutz said. It’s “different from just binge-watching a Netflix series at home,” she said.
Even local movie lovers in the younger generation felt this intangible magic as they returned to the Eagle movie theater.
“If you are at home watching a movie, you don’t get the same vibes as you do at the theater because at the theater you are sitting in a room with a big TV screen and then all the lights turn off and the room goes silent and the movie starts playing,” said 12-year-old Eagle resident Isabella Matteo.
For Matteo, the Capitol Theatre is her favorite place to meet up with friends and she said she missed seeing new movies there during the pandemic.
Matteo and her friends went to the theater on opening night, May 21, as well as the following weekend, she said. They were eager to make up for lost time and saw “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Raya and The Last Dragon” and “Cruella.”
Another local, Rebecca Lewandowski, said the theater is one of the reasons she and her family love living in Eagle Ranch, adding that its reopening “made things feel normal again.”
After going to see the new “Tom & Jerry” movie, her three young children were filled with excitement, she said. The viewing marked her 5-year-old son’s and 2-year-old daughter’s first experience at a movie theater.
“I am so happy the movie theater is open again because I can get popcorn,“ her 7-year-old son said.
Luckily for these locals, the Capitol Theatre was able to survive 16 months of closure with the help of federal CARES Act dollars and alternate revenue streams, Lindstrom said.
Lindstrom also owns the apartments that share a building with the theater and revenue generated from those rentals helped cover expenses, he said.
While he did have to furlough staff, payroll protection funding made available through the CARES Act helped them get by, he said.
For much of the pandemic, the Capitol Theatre displayed a sign that read, “Thank you Sen. Bennet for save our screens,” as a tribute to Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
This was prompted by the support that Bennet showed toward movie theaters and other entertainment venues that were hit especially hard by COVID-19-related closures, Lindstrom said.
In April of 2021, Sens. Bennet and John Hickenlooper wrote a letter urging the Small Business Administration to reopen, and make improvements to, the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant.
The Shuttered Venues Operators Grant, or SVOG, is designed to support small and medium-sized entertainment venues as they continue in the struggle to make a full recovery from the pandemic, Lindstrom said.
In their letter, the two senators urged the Small Business Administration to relaunch the grant program, establish clear deadlines and offer loans in a tiered fashion, starting with the hardest-hit businesses, according to a copy of the letter.
The program has since been reopened, according to its website.
The Capitol Theatre was also awarded $90,000 in funds through the Colorado Arts Relief Grant in February of this year.
The theater was hoping to make its comeback in the fall, but the lack of new releases coming out of Hollywood combined with a resurgence in COVID-19 cases made it impossible, Lindstrom said.
“Hollywood movie studios stopped putting out movies because there was no place to show them and so it’s been a real chicken and the egg thing around the whole world, you know, waiting for improvements in public health conditions,” he said.
The theater’s first week back was a little slow, but things have been picking up, manager Karm Trygg said Tuesday.
Thanks to the support of the public, the theater has now welcomed back all staff members that wanted to return and has even added a few new employees, Trygg said.
“It’s great to be back,” he said. “I won’t say it wasn’t a little strange that first weekend, but now it feels like we never left.”
This weekend, the theater is showing “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” “Cruella,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” and “Raya and The Last Dragon.”
Matinees will return Friday with showings starting at 1 p.m., Trygg said.
Showtimes can be found at vailmovies.com.
Email Kelli Duncan at email@example.com