BAR HARBOR — Staffing, repairs, poor weather and now the coronavirus delta variant are all reasons why Reel Pizza Cinerama, a movie theater that serves pizza, is not showing any movies until further notice.
Reel Pizza was able to show outdoor movies last summer during the pandemic. For now, although pizza is still being served, the venue is unable to offer that aspect of the business.
Last year, Reel Pizza owners Lisa Burton and her husband Chris Vincenti took out a COVID-19 EIDL loan that provides economic relief to small businesses experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. “We’ve sort of been spending [the loan] all winter. We didn’t get an infusion of COVID aid to help us during the winter,” said Burton.
“This year, the reason why we didn’t do the outdoor movies was because we were really hoping to be able to get it together to do indoor movies this summer. We were certainly waiting for the money to show movies,” she continued.
In May, Burton applied for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Restaurant Revitalization Fund Grant, which was meant to help restaurants and food service businesses that were struggling as the result of the pandemic. Along with many others, Burton was approved to receive a grant, but the SBA revoked the application.
“I was smart that I didn’t spend the money that they promised based on their approval letter. I wanted to wait until the money was actually in the account,” Burton said, adding that the administration told them a month later that her business was no longer eligible.
“They (SBA) told us the money would be in our account within 3 to 10 days, then the last week of June they said, actually, never mind, we can’t give you any money. We got caught in some random limbo. They pulled our money, but they didn’t pull our application.”
Burton is not alone. The $28.6 billion program ran out of money about three months after applications were opened, leaving hundreds of thousands of restaurants with no relief. In Maine, only 43 percent of applicants received grants, with over 800 requests totaling $183 million going unfulfilled.
Burton said she wasn’t comfortable hiring staff before she had the money in hand. Right now, the lack of staffing has been preventing Reel Pizza from being able to operate in full swing.
“We were trying to hire people in July, but there was nobody to hire, so we didn’t have enough staff to be able to open the movie theater and we barely had enough staff to be able to just do the pizza stuff,” Burton said.
As the delta variant became more prevalent, Burton and Vincenti didn’t think it would be a good idea to fill the theater to capacity this summer. And even if they wanted to, Burton noted that the business does not have enough staff to operate the theater right now.
“It’s just been a whole bunch of issues that have just compounded – staffing, money, the delta variant, weather and not wanting to be the vaccination cop,” Burton said.
“Showing a movie is the easiest part of it, but all these other parts have to be in place,” Burton said, adding that the projector batteries have a two-year life span and need to be replaced before any movies can be shown. The business’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system has also needed repairs, and the restaurant side needed a new oven.
“Our heating system broke in February, but it wasn’t like it was unknown,” Burton said, adding that they were expecting it to break. “We ordered the parts in February to fix the HVAC system. We didn’t get our new HVAC system installed until the end of May.”
For July and August, Burton said that the restaurant portion of the cinerama is coming close to breaking even. And for now, takeout food will continue to be served and guests can eat at the outdoor dining pavilion.