MONTEVIDEO — Hollywood heroes and heroines routinely take on adversity to make possible happy endings.
It's exactly the script the owners of the Millennium Theater in Montevideo have decided to write for themselves.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to temporarily close their three-screen theater, Jayme and Erich Winter and theater staff have devoted their Friday and Saturday nights to selling fresh-made theater popcorn and mini-doughnuts.
They gave it the first try on Friday, March 20. By the next night, they were selling more popcorn than they would on most movie nights. “Help,” said Erich Winter of his reaction on night two of the popcorn sales in March. He had orders for 160 large bags of buttered popcorn. He filled orders for 200 dozen mini-doughnuts the first weekend they were added to the mix as well.
The best is yet to come. The theater is preparing to offer drive-in movies in the parking lot of its location in the Southtown Plaza.
The Winters are hoping they can begin offering the drive-in movies as early as this weekend. They have a full-sized screen, portable projector and an FM transmitter to broadcast the audio to radios all at the ready.
Both ideas — selling popcorn for curbside customers and hosting drive-in movies — had been in the back of the owners’ minds long before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Erich Winter said the pandemic prompted them to give the popcorn sales a try, in part as an opportunity for the theater’s staff to work some hours.
The community response has been so supportive, Erich and Jayme said. There are a number of popcorn lovers who have been coming every Friday and Saturday since it started, they said. When one of the regulars missed a night, they called them to make sure they were OK. They were.
The best part of it, they said, is the popcorn sales give them an opportunity to see the customers they have come to know so well in their three years of owning the theater. “Our customers aren’t our customers,” said Erich. “They are our guests.”
He said he and Jayme were thinking about occasionally offering drive-in movies — for the fun of it — months ago. He had an extra, full-sized screen as the result of the extensive renovation and remodeling they completed when opening the theater in May of 2017.
He was planning to rent a portable projector to give it a try. Last February, he spotted a portable projector for sale at a very good price and jumped on it. Now they have been going through the licensing requirements with the city to open up the drive-in operation. The city has been very supportive, they said.
The parking lot should allow for 55 to 60 vehicles with appropriate distance between them. Movie-goers will be able to use their phones to order popcorn and other concessions delivered to their vehicle. Or, the treats can be ordered outside the theater’s entrance and picked up at the exit door a short distance away. Plans call for showing two movies each night, with a 9:15 starting time for the first.
The owners said they do not know yet if theaters will be allowed to reopen on June 1. They are taking a cautious approach. Erich said they want to be socially responsible and are awaiting for safe guidelines before making a decision on reopening. He also pointed out that new Hollywood releases aren’t expected until late June or early July.