Ky Boyd, owner of Rialto Cinemas in Elmwood and El Cerrito, was finally able to relight his neon signs and ticket booths Saturday and Sunday to host Popcorn Pick-Up, even if updated health guidelines prevented his plan to reopen the theaters for Thanksgiving.
Boyd, who said his childhood dream was to own a theater, began leasing the two theaters in 2007 and 2009. Since then, Rialto Cinemas has become a “community treasure,” as described by many of its patrons.
“I’ve been an exhibitor for about 20 years, and this has been the most challenging year. We’re just trying to keep the ship afloat,” Boyd said. “I never envisioned we would be in our ninth month closed.”
Boyd said the added burden of paying the leases despite a lack of usual revenue and limited government assistance led him to begin a GoFundMe page in September. In its first two months, it surpassed its goal of $75,000.
On Nov.19, the goal was increased to $125,000 to compensate for the continued closures.
In order to stay in touch with community members, Boyd launched the Popcorn Pick-Up initiative on Saturdays and Sundays so customers can pick up typical movie refreshments, including popcorn and candy, as well as food from the El Cerrito theater’s kitchen.
“It was so nice just to interact with the neighborhood and see our customers again,” Boyd said. “There were some people that were ready to come in and see a movie but, of course, we aren’t doing that.”
Boyd teamed up with film distributors to offer virtual cinemas to customers so they can watch documentaries and independent movies at home. He also launched Rialto Recommends on social media and through an emailing list, suggesting “off-the-beaten-path” films. So far, he has recommended about 240 movies.
Another way Boyd is utilizing social media is to help ensure the survival of theaters throughout the country with the National Association of Theater Owners. The group is asking Congress to pass the Save Your Cinema initiative, which would allocate Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act relief funds to businesses, including cinemas.
Boyd said he hopes to reopen before Christmas but estimates it might be closer to early next year. He added that he looks forward to welcoming moviegoers in again and rehiring his employees.
“I’ve always been someone who lives in optimism and hope,” Boyd said. “We just have to keep hopeful and put one foot in front of the other and hope that people take the situation seriously and do what they have to do to stop the spread of the virus.”