Highlands Cinemas misses first summer in 40 years
By Sue Tiffin
Highlands Cinemas in Kinmount will remain closed this season, citing multiple factors in not being able to open for the 2020 season.
“Well, it was a long winter, now it looks like it is going to be an even longer summer,” said owner Keith Stata on the movie theatre’s website. “For 40 years, Highlands Cinemas has opened at the first of May, and closed on Thanksgiving. A run of 5.5 months.”
Stata said it takes about 120 hours to close down, clean and board up the popular attraction at the end of a season. To open, meanwhile, costs anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 for maintenance work, inspections, servicing and stock.
“That is what makes this year so troubling,” he wrote.
The beloved cinema had its 40-year anniversary last year, celebrating Stata’s passion for the place. Over the years, he built it from a 50-seat theatre, with what he said was an eight-by-10-foot lobby, to an 18,500 square foot structure with five screens, 550 seats and a 4,000 square foot museum filled with movie, toy and cultural nostalgia from as early as the 1800s. Attendance came from residents of surrounding areas – the theatre is the closest to many in Haliburton County after the closing of the Molou theatre in Haliburton and Beaver theatre in Minden in previous years – as well as seasonal residents who made it a traditional stop as part of their summer vacation.
“I didn’t build a theatre in Kinmount to get rich, that is for certain,” Stata wrote. “I built it because I enjoyed it, the movies, the customers, the staff, the bear, all of it.”
Multiple factors make it impossible for Stata to open the cinema this year.
“For the theatre to work, we need schools, camps, blockbuster movies, good staff, and rain to bring in the customers,” he said. “This year there are no schools, or camps, our staff for the most part have found employment elsewhere, all the major movies are gone, there is also the concern many people will not feel comfortable in an indoor theatre at this time. The critical weeks of summer are now approaching and social distancing which is absolutely necessary, will reduce our seating to around 30 per cent. That combined with the extra costs associated with COVID-19 would make it impossible to make money this year or justify the cost of trying to open. Like many businesses we simply weren’t designed for COVID-19, and at 73, I don’t want it either.”
Stata said he did contact local MPP Laurie Scott and a City of Kawartha Lakes-based councillor regarding when the business might be able to open, or help for it through the closure, but said he did not hear back about those concerns.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the health and safety of Ontario’s residents has been the number one consideration in all the decisions being made by the province as well as the federal and municipal governments,” said Scott in response to an inquiry from the Times. “Canadian provinces, including Ontario, have taken a phased in approach to reopening in an effort to both keep our residents safe, and to avoid the experience of some other jurisdictions where a rush to reopening has resulted in additional virus spread forcing a slowdown or reversal of their reopening.”
“With regards to the inquiry from Highland Theatres, in May (just after the Victoria Day long weekend) we received his question regarding the anticipated reopening date for theatres in Ontario,” Scott told the Times. “On May 19, we advised Highland Theatres that a date for the safe reopening of theatres had not yet been identified. Unfortunately, a move to the next phase of reopening has yet to be determined. As with all phases of the reopening, these decisions are made in consultation with the medical officers of health of the municipalities and the province, with the health and safety of our residents top of mind. I continue to provide updates to residents via all forms of communication, and look forward to providing an update regarding additional openings in the days and weeks ahead.”
Meanwhile, the cat rescue that operates alongside the theatre and welcomes guests as they arrive to the box office is still in operation, with 42 cats being homed by Stata in an intricate sanctuary. A donations box is located at the gate for those who might be able to help Stata care for the cats, who are often supported in part by donations from moviegoers.
“Hopefully we can again see you at the movies in the spring of 2021, in the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy,” said Stata.