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Now showing: Paso's Park Cinemas weathers pandemic closures

Angel Russell
Park Cinemas reopened over the weekend while Regal Cinemas closed all of its theaters.

Regal Cinemas, the country's second largest movie chain, temporarily closed last week due to coronavirus-caused economic woes. But smaller, independent movie theaters like Park Cinemas in Paso Robles are trying to stay open.

After starting off as an usher at San Luis Obispo’s Fremont Theater, John Roush made his dream of opening his own movie theater come true in 1997.

So far, the hardest financial struggle he faced as owner of the Park Cinemas was reopening after the 2003 San Simeon earthquake, which closed his movie theater for a week. But then the pandemic hit. 

“Lose one week of business and that's not a big deal," Roush said. " But lose seven months? It’s an absolute disaster.”

With COVID-19 keeping the theater closed for several months, Roush’s daughters, who now run the family business with him, started a GoFund me, raising more than $17,000 to help save their family's business.

Park Cinemas reopened for showings last Friday. 

“It was an absolute relief," Roush said. "I was near jumping up and down, being able to get open again, the staff was excited. Listening to the people coming in, they were excited. Someone would come in and go ‘oh popcorn, I haven't had popcorn in so long.”

But the struggle continues. Hollywood has postponed the release of major new blockbusters. The newest James Bond movie, set to come out November, is now not hitting theaters until April, and Marvel held back “Black Widow” until next year.

The schedule leaves Pixar's “Soul” and DreamWorks "The Croods: A New Age” as the next big films to come out mid-November.

“That is probably the biggest the worst problem we have in the industry right now," Roush said. "That all the movies are being pushed back and we are not getting a big picture to open.”

Roush and his family are getting creative by doing private showings of customer movies of choice, and renting out their screens for video gamers.

“I’m not a video gamer, but it’s really interesting to watch these gamers play on the big screen,” Roush said.

While the family is just breaking even for now, Roush said he’s going to try everything he can to keep his business open. 

“I’m not giving up my entire adult life, 57 years because the government has shut us down," Roush said. "We’re going to get through it somehow.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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