Craig Triphahn always circles Memorial Day Weekend on his calendar.

The Sawmill Theatres general manager and operators of movie houses across the country count on Hollywood blockbusters to pack in huge crowds on the unofficial start of summer for the movie industry.

But the COVID-19 pandemic all but guarantees 2020 will go down as the worst summer for box office receipts in decades.

Sawmill Theatres opened over the weekend for the first time in two months with a pair of classic movies.

The limited reopening featured two Saturday screenings of “Casablanca,” the 1942 film considered one of the greatest movies ever made, in one theater and 1990 comedy “Home Alone” in another.

Seating is limited, with every other row blocked off to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Four of the six theaters remained dark.

Both films played twice on Saturday and once on Sunday as the Payson movie house opened its doors for the first time since shutting down because of government restrictions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus on March 16.

Classic films are the only option for theaters until Hollywood studios release films that have been on hold since studios shut down production and movie theaters went dark.

That came two days after the theater announced a social distancing measure to cut seating capacity to 50% in every theater and one day after announcing enhanced sanitizing measures.

Admission cost $5 for each movie.

But even money from the higher ticket prices for new releases don’t keep theaters afloat. They make a large majority of their profits from concession sales.

On May 8, the theater sold $5 and $10 bags of its movie theater popcorn for pickup in front of the theater.

And when Gov. Doug Ducey lifted restrictions on businesses effective at midnight on Friday, May 15, Triphahn decided to offer a pair of favorites targeted for different audiences to test the idea of classic movie screenings until Hollywood begins releasing films again in July.

Many of the big theater chains across the country remain closed. Most will likely reopen with reduced seating capacity on Wednesday, July 1 when studios begin rolling out films for the big Fourth of July weekend.

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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