The Lakes 12 Theatre plans to reopen next week if state health officials give the go-ahead as expected in the coming days.

Stephen Mann, CEO of Mann Theatres, which owns the Baxter cineplex, said he was optimistic about the Friday, Jan. 15, reopening date based on discussions involving Gov. Tim Walz.

“He will probably allow us to reopen on the 11th of January, which we will not. We won’t open until the 15th … only because, you know, most films open on Fridays … so right now I'm very hopeful that that's going to be the word from the governor,” Mann said Monday.

Moviegoers are reminded to wear face masks with a sign at the entrance of the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
Moviegoers are reminded to wear face masks with a sign at the entrance of the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Minnesota health officials had asked movie theaters to close in a continuing effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with these directives, all Mann Theatres locations including the Lakes 12 Theatre temporarily closed again on Nov. 20 until further notice.

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“I talk to the state once a week. A lot of people are on that call with the health department ... so we always have an inside sight as to what the governor is going to announce … so hopefully, we should know our fate by Wednesday of this week,” Mann said.

June reopening

It was not until June 10, when movie theaters in Minnesota were allowed to reopen with seating capacity limited to 25%. The Lakes 12 Theatre, when it was permitted by the state, opened with eight of its 12 auditoriums operating.

RELATED: Lakes 12 Theatre to reopen June 26

Mann said theaters have been safe when allowed to open.

“There has not been one COVID-related case linked to a movie theater anywhere in the state of Minnesota or in the country. That’s monitored by our national trade organization … so we felt that we were certainly treated unfairly,” he said of the National Association of Theater Owners.

RELATED: Lakes 12 Theatre temporarily closes due to COVID-19 concerns

Still, theaters now are competing directly with streaming services.

AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio will debut all of its 2021 films in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service on the same day, the company announced last month, an unprecedented shift that hammered shares of struggling cinema operators.

“The other distributors haven’t followed suit, thank God. Warner claims that it’s only a 2021 policy — they’re calling it their ‘pandemic policy.’ But I think they missed the boat — I really do,” Mann said of some movie stars unwilling to work with the studio because of the policy.

Stephen Mann is the chief executive officer of Mann Theatres, which owns the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Submitted photo / Mann Theatres
Stephen Mann is the chief executive officer of Mann Theatres, which owns the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Submitted photo / Mann Theatres

“‘Wonder Woman 1984’ was the first picture that started that policy. Wonder Woman has grossed about $120 million worldwide. It’s disappointing,” Mann said of the major motion picture’s box office revenue in relation to the policy. “

RELATED: Lakes 12 reopens with past crowd pleasers to lure back moviegoers

January reopening?

“Avengers,” “Grease,” “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park” and “Pitch Perfect” were some of the older titles the Lakes 12 Theatre offered to kick off its June 26 reopening — banking on a roster of proven blockbusters to fill theater seats again after the stay-at-home order was rescinded last year.

“Well, that’s something we'll play by ear,” Mann said of what movies and how many of Lakes 12 Theatre’s auditoriums will reopen Jan. 15. “If we get the green light on the 15th, I’ll have my film buyer working on it later in the week. There’s not a lot of new releases to choose from.

When Lakes 12 Theatre reopened in June with eight of its 12 auditoriums, it initially offered showings of perennial crowd pleasers such as “Dirty Dancing.” The remaining four auditoriums were not used during the summer due to air-conditioning costs, according to Mann.

Mann is hopeful newer releases are on the docket for the next reopening.

“There were about four new first-run films out at Christmas that we’ll be opening with because, like this week, there’s not a new release out. There is a new one out next week, so, you know, I’ll open as many screens as I feel it’s economically feasible to do so,” Mann said of next week.

“Wonder Woman 1984,” “The Croods: A New Age,” “News of the World,” “Promising Young Woman” and “Monster Hunter” are among the new releases that will likely be shown at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter when it reopens, according to Mann.

The Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter includes social distancing reminders on the floor and Plexiglas at the registers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
The Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter includes social distancing reminders on the floor and Plexiglas at the registers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Mann said his movie theaters have had to adapt, just like any business.

The Mann Champlin Drive-in offered outdoor showings Christmas weekend of the highly anticipated new release “Wonder Woman 1984” and the Will Ferrell classic “Elf” during New Year’s weekend because movie patrons could still socially distance themselves.

“Right now, they’re all closed, of course, because of the mandate, but our Hopkins location in downtown Hopkins is closed permanently,” Mann said. “We made an arrangement with the landlord, and he’s going to develop it into a four-story apartment building.”

The Hopkins Cinema 6 had been open for 24 years, but the multiplex closed permanently on Nov. 20 when the rest of the Mann Theatres movie theaters were temporarily closed.

“That was the only location that I do not own the property, so all of my properties other than that particular one I own, I can control my own destiny, I don’t have to pay rent, and that one I did have to pay rent,” Mann said.

RELATED: Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter offers private movie screenings

Like many businesses, movie theaters entered a period of forced closures by state health officials back in late March as the U.S. went into lockdown to try and contain the coronavirus.

“It was a discount theater — did very well,” Mann said of the Hopkins Cinema 6. “But the light at the end of the tunnel was just too far down to sustain it until such time as we could be open and profitable.”

Curbside concessions

Mann Theatres resumed selling popcorn for curbside pickup Saturdays when its movie theaters temporarily closed again in November. Family size bags of popcorn was sold for $15 or participants could get the bag free with the purchase of a $25 Mann Theatres gift card.

“We tried to have some income. We have a lot of very faithful customers that support us. And it was a good deal for the customer as well. But, nevertheless, a lot of people stepped up and supported us in all of our theatres, not just up in Baxter,” Mann said.

To have the curbside pickup in April, Mann Theatres reported it is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleaning protocols and its team members will wear face masks and gloves. Customers are asked to wait in line and stay in their vehicles outside the theater.

Vehicles form a long line as patrons arrive to get curbside popcorn and movie gift cards at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter in April. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
Vehicles form a long line as patrons arrive to get curbside popcorn and movie gift cards at Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter in April. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

“My plan right now is the curbside will end this coming Saturday, that’ll be our last curbside. And the reason for that is because the following week we should be open, theatres should be open — at least that’s our plan right now,” Mann said.

RELATED: Lakes 12 Theatre and Sunset Cinema offer sneak peek on reopening plans

Mann Theatres locations have been temporarily, intermittently closed last year for a total of more than five months, according to Mann.

“We’re just excited to get reopened and get back to what we consider the new norm,” Mann said of next week’s expected reopening of the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.