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Virus Means Salem Cinema Closes Doors For First Time In Nearly 40 years

Chris Lehman

Movie theaters are among the many businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For one Oregon theater owner, it meant closing the doors for the first time since the theater opened in 1982.

Salem Cinema is a three-screen theater that specializes in independent and foreign films. Its owner, Loretta Miles, said she tried to stay open. But over the weekend, it became clear that wasn’t going to be possible.

“There were about three days that I just spent crying, to be honest,” she said.

And so, on Monday night, after the closing credits rolled on an adaptation of Jane Austen's novel "Emma," the screens went dark, with no clear indication on when they'll be used again.

Miles has worked at the theater since soon after it opened, and became its owner 30 years ago. She never imagined something like this would happen. “We are currently caught in the middle of a Hollywood apocalypse b-grade movie with no plot, and all the dialogue is being ad-libbed,” she said.

She said many regulars are buying gift certificates or making donations in hopes that Salem Cinema will one day re-open.

Miles said she thinks technically she could have stayed open by limiting patrons to just 25 at a time. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has banned gatherings of more than 25 people. And Miles said the theater could operate without a concession stand to avoid the ban on serving food. But she said business was already down dramatically. On the final day of showings, just ten customers showed up.

Miles said ultimately, closing the doors is the right decision. "I really feel like the responsible thing to do is not provide the public with yet another reason to go out," she said.

In the meantime, Miles said she's worried about continuing expenses such as rent, insurance and utilities for the theater. She also wants to find a way to support the staff, "because of course, they're caught in the middle of this as well."

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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