Sauk Valley movie theaters gearing up for a Phase 4 reopening

In a world where social distancing makes it hard for movie theaters to function, a happy ending may be in sight.

Closed since mid-March, when the COVID-19 virus started to spread throughout Illinois, the Sauk Valley’s three indoor theaters each have plans to reopen.

The downtown Sterling Theater will reopen when Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan takes effect on June 26, manager Lori VanOosten said.

The movie screens are silent, but the theater’s popcorn machines have been poppin’ for a couple of hours every Friday. Curbside sales are helping the theater pay its small bills during the closure, VanOosten said.

Ultimately, social distancing and sanitation guidelines must be laid out by the state and the Illinois Department of Public Health before theaters can reopen. VanOosten hasn’t heard anything yet on how to proceed, and it may take a couple of days after she gets notice of the guidelines to make the theater meets all requirements.

“If all goes well and we can open on the 26th, we are going to try to open if everything falls into place,” she said.

For the first time since the downtown theater reopened, it will have assigned seating – tickets will have a seat number listed. Online purchases will be encouraged, not only to limit person-to-person contact, but also so moviegoers can choose where they want to sit.

Families can sit together, but the ticket system automatically will choose a seat for the next buyer that’s at least 6 feet away. Every other row will be empty and masks will be required.

AMC, which owns a theater in at 4110 30th St. on Sterling’s east end, will reopen its theaters in phases starting July 15, the company said on its website. Messages seeking a specific opening day at Sauk Valley 8 were not returned.

Its seating areas will be reduced to a maximum 30% capacity, masks will be required, and every other row will be blocked off. A limited concession menu will be offered; no refills of popcorn and soft drinks will be given. Napkins, lids, straws and condiments will be available by request.

Extra time will be made between movies for cleaning of seating areas.

Times Theater

The Times Theater in Savanna plans to open on or slightly before July 31, owner Katy Colgan said.

The Times has been in business for more than 75 years.

“Thankfully, we had the building and the two projectors paid off when we were forced to close,” Colgan said. “We are reopening, but we need to get some precautions in place.”

Midway Drive-In

The Midway Drive-In east of Sterling reopened May 22. Drive-ins do not have as many social distancing complications as indoor theaters, and were permitted to open during Phase 3.

The Midway will conclude a monthlong showing of Steven Spielberg films on Saturday.

Tickets for Midway films and events are available only online at themidwaydrivein.net.

A $10 food permit is required for each vehicles on top of individual ticket prices; that allows moviegoers to bring their own food and drink while the facility’s concession stand is closed.

The Midway also plans to bring back horror film actor Bruce Campbell on July 10 and 11 for a showing of the “Evil Dead” trilogy, as part of Chicago Horror Con’s Flashback Weekend.

“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” and “Army of Darkness” will be shown July 10.

A 4K restoration of Sam Raimi’s original “Evil Dead,” and two other films, Lucio Fulci’sá “The Beyond” and “I Drink Your Blood,” are slated for the 11th.

Vehicles will be allowed to occupy two spaces and only 250 will be allowed.

There will be a question-and-answer session with Campbell before each showing, and VIP tickets for socially distanced photos with Campbell will be available.