On July 31, the Classic Theatre in Grand Falls-Windsor showed its first movie since the COVID-19 pandemic forced its shutdown in March.
Moviegoers, there to break the monotony of home and to support a local business, were greeted with enhanced safety protocols put in place by co-owners Shawn and Jackie Feener.
Those include, among other things, roping off half of the theatre’s auditorium seating, implementing a rigorous bathroom cleaning schedule, installing protective shields for employees and the wearing of masks.
“Everything (the provincial government) asked us to do, we did, and the last thing they said was we’re going to have to learn how to live with (the virus)” said Shawn Feener. “Well, we’re doing that, too.
“What else are we supposed to do?”
“We’re here with this little business, it's all we got, and we’re here paying the price. I mean, I can understand it if you want to drop the hammer on me. Well, do, it. Just drop it on everybody." — Shawn Feener
Now, the owners are hoping an online petition can help get the government to change its mind regarding the number of people they can welcome into the theatre.
It started after Shawn Feener received notification late last week that their original proposal to increase their allowed capacity from 23 per cent — which is 50 people — to 40 per cent had been turned down.
The theatre seats 220 people and there was hope they could get their pandemic number up to 88.
In an email to the SaltWire Network, a spokesperson with the Department of Health reiterated that the current health regulations for cinemas under Level II would remain the same.
An online petition was started in hopes of having a reversal of the decision to deny the theatre’s original request.
Within a couple of days of being launched on Aug. 8, the petition had garnered more than 1,300 online signatures.
Feener suggests other businesses, such as larger department store chains, restaurants and bars, are not following guidelines and that his business is unfairly being squeezed.
Adding to his frustration is the government’s decision to open its provincial pools in Gander and Corner Brook on Monday.
“We’re here with this little business, it's all we got, and we’re here paying the price," said Feener. "I mean, I can understand it if you want to drop the hammer on me. Well, do, it. Just drop it on everybody.
“Like I’ve said time and time again, when we got to Level II, the government then should have looked at every individual business and categorized them in individual groups.”
Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans MHA Chris Tibbs believes it is possible for the theatre to raise its capacity safely.
“The iconic Classic Theatre has a capacity of well over 200 seats and they have the ability to operate in a safe and controlled way. They are simply asking to be able to operate at 40 per cent capacity at this time, with appropriate social distancing, and dedicated entrances and exits,” he said in a statement.
“It is heartless to crush this local business just because the minister doesn’t want to be flexible.”
Tibbs also made a point to mention that indoor capacity in other provinces in the Atlantic Bubble is greater than it is here.
“Why is there such inconsistency with business capacities among our Atlantic Canadian neighbours?” he said. “This doesn’t make any practical sense and will result in more businesses closing their doors for good.”
Feener is hoping for a change in heart to give his business a chance at surviving the pandemic.
He’s even offering to give provincial Health Minister Dr. John Haggie and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald a tour of the theatre to help them understand the measures he’s taken to make things safe for people.
“We’re just trying to survive. That’s all we’re trying to do,” said Feener.
Nicholas Mercer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering central Newfoundland for SaltWire Network.