After months of going dark, The Grand Berry Theater is open for patrons enjoying popcorn and a thought-provoking film again, but the ending is still being written for independent theaters in the United States.

The Grand Berry was able to keep the doors open through grants, private screenings and those who care about the business continuing to invest in it.

“Just to see that we created something that people are invested in, and people enjoy and have good experiences around has been really encouraging and just kind of the reminder that we needed that we’re doing something right and that people enjoy having us here,” theater owner Jimmy Sweeney said. “After basically being shut down in most capacities for such a long time, it’s been really encouraging to see that community around.”

The COVID-19 pandemic closed movie theaters across the country and made independent theaters, already on rocky financial footing since the advent of streaming, even more of an endangered species. Because the arthouse cinema at 2712 Weisenberger St. could not have typical showings, Sweeney said, The Grand Berry found other ways to make it through the pandemic.

If You Go

Where: 2712 Weisenberger St.

Showtimes: https://grandberrytheater.com/showtimes

Ticket price: $8

The Grand Berry reopened for a week in early June 2020 for the release of “Miss Juneteenth.” When the summer COVID-19 spike hit, the theater closed again but allowed people to rent the screens for  private showings.
 

“But, again, it doesn’t really replace the feel and success of a packed movie theater for something you’re really excited about,” Sweeney said.

It also does not replace the profits of a packed theater. The Grand Berry opened in late summer of 2019. In 2020, profits were down 90% when comparing year-to-year, Sweeney said. Now, though still down, revenue is back up to about 60-70% of pre-pandemic figures. 

The theater reopened for showings in September. Most of the revenue the theater gets is from concessions. About 35-50% of ticket sales go back to the film distributor, which means the theater relies on people buying snacks and drinks, Sweeney said.

Paycheck Protection Program and Preserve the Fort grants helped the theater pay the rent on the building for about two months, he said.

The financial impact hurt employees, too. The theater currently has two employees after a high of seven at one point, he said.

For the most part, departures happened naturally when employees needed to find full-time work elsewhere, he said. The theater hopes to be able to add more positions and give staff raises as it financially recovers.

All movie theaters have been hit hard, too, by the effects of studios releasing films to streaming platforms like HBO Max, Disney+ and Netflix.

Margot Gerber is the vice president of marketing and publicity for Landmark Theatres. The national company, which has two theaters in Dallas, was able to reopen doors in August 2020 at eight locations in cities that were reopening during the pandemic, she said.

Some arthouses actually had a bit of an advantage because a lot of larger, commercial studios were not releasing movies, Gerber said. When Landmark Theatres first reopened, it was showing Christopher Nolan’s mainstream movie “Tenet.”

“There was a belief that if people were going to come out of their houses, out of quarantine, that they would come out for a blockbuster like that,” she said. “That kind of opened the post-quarantine movie exhibition.”

Movie theater audiences are still down, Gerber said. Despite this, some moves, such as the new James Bond film ‘No Time to Die,’ still get good box office numbers.

“We can see pretty easily, without doing too much high-level math, that audiences are down,” she said. “We do believe that if studios and theaters can’t reach some kind of an agreement on some kind of what they call a window between when a film is released in theaters, and a film streams, then it’s going to be a severe problem for theaters.”

Jason Wiseman is a member of Grand Berry Film Club, which is a group of patrons who watch films together and discuss them. The narrowing gap for releasing movies to streaming services will test whether some still want the experience of watching in a theater, especially after being stuck inside for so long, he said.

Wiseman, who also runs a nonprofit called the Reel House Foundation that helps underprivileged kids have a fun movie theater experience, said the film club is a chance for people to come together to see a movie and discuss it.  

“There are theaters that are trying to push, obviously, the experience of going to see movies in the theater, but in the long run, especially for big budget movies, it’ll be interesting,” Wiseman said. “I think for The Grand Berry and for those types of theaters that provide more of a unique experience, I think those places will still thrive.”

Government grants and stimulus funds helped keep The Grand Berry open, but so did support from the community for its mission, Sweeney said.

That mission includes showing films that highlight diverse and untold stories, he said.

“Everything that we show in some way has purpose in being seen in the community,” Sweeney said. “And even if it’s stupid stuff like a lot of our cult classics are just fun movies to watch and being able to watch that among a community that also enjoys them is just such a unique and powerful experience for helping people feel belonging in the community they’re in and surrounded by people with common interests.”

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

Leave a comment

Welcome to the discussion.

• Transparency. Your full name is required.

• Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.

• PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.

• Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.

• Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.

• Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.

• Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article -- and receive photos, videos of what you see.

• Don’t be a troll. Don’t be a troll.

• Don’t post inflammatory or off-topic messages, or personal attacks.