Movies light up the screens at Farmington Civic Theater once more

Virtual movie-watching events.

The Ruff Times, a community newspaper dedicated to downtown dogs. And maybe a treat or two for the pups that pass by.

Popcorn to go. Private screenings. Community outreach.

The Farmington Civic Theater has innovated a number of tools in its efforts to stay in the hearts and minds of the community. The 80-year-old movie theater was forced to turn off its projectors for much of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the state.

“One of the things that’s been very important, even going back to March, is that no business wants to be forgotten and you don’t want people to forget your name,” says Scott Freeman, general manager of the Farmington Civic Theater.

Fortunately for the Civic, Michigan permitted its movie theaters to reopen on Monday, Dec. 21 — albeit under strict capacity limits. The theater is currently limited to operating at 20 percent capacity.

Freeman says that the Civic is taking its safety precautions seriously. Every other row is closed and parties are asked to leave two seats between them. Touch points are routinely sterilized and hand sanitizer is readily available. Counter-mounted credit card machines allow for a touch-free experience. Face masks are required.

One of the stipulations set by the state is that for a movie theater to be open, food and beverages cannot be consumed indoors.

Throughout the year, whether their screens were playing movies or not, the Civic has been selling concessions to go, including a family bag of popcorn, which is the equivalent of four large bags.

“You’ve gotta keep your name out there — even if you’re breaking even. Otherwise people are going to start looking elsewhere and forget about you when things recover,” Freeman says.

It’s been a popular program. The Civic even sells special buckets of popcorn to customers going to the neighboring Farmington Brewing Company; the buckets were chosen because they don’t spill easily.

Popcorn to-go could prove especially popular with those enjoying the newly established social district, The Syndicate.

Another popular program has been the Civic’s private rentals of its theaters. While the program was available before COVID-19, the theater has been promoting it even moreso now. Customers can rent either of the Civic’s two theaters and Freeman will do his best to secure their desired films. Groups are limited to each theater’s capacity restrictions; 26 upstairs and 54 downstairs.

“This theater is a magnet for the community, a primary spot downtown. We’ve been around for 80 years and we’re not going anywhere,” Freeman says.

“People see that neon sign and they know that it will always be there.”

UPDATE: Theater concessions, including the Civic’s popcorn, will be allowed to be served and consumed indoors beginning Monday, Feb. 1.

Visit the Farmington Civic Theater online to learn more about movie listings, safety precautions, and more.

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.