After a very long 14 months, the Big Picture Theater and Café in Waitsfield can see a path forward.
Owner Claudia Becker said she and manager Kevin McMillion are working to get the restaurant open for dinner four nights a week with Saturday and Sunday brunch offered in the coming weeks.
Becker said that she’d tried to keep the restaurant open for takeout while she had PPP funds, but once those ran out it was not financially viable. Last spring, she debuted drive-in movies with takeout food and cocktails as well.
“The building suffered from being closed for over a year and we’re currently renovating, painting and upgrading to make it look lovely again,” Becker said.
Like many hospitality businesses, Becker is facing the same labor shortage that the state is facing.
“It’s a challenge. We’re working on filling the positions in the kitchen with people who are competent, reliable and can live in The Valley. We’re trying to put our old team together but we can’t bring everybody back. Things have changed for a lot of people and they can’t work the same hours they did and they have their kids at home,” she explained.
In an interesting pandemic twist, Becker said that there is a very little content coming out of Hollywood in terms of films which has implications for the theater.
“There are no movies. There’s some content slowly coming out but it’s art house stuff. Filmmaking came to a complete halt and distribution companies found it easier to distribute online. Big Hollywood producers are going to Amazon and Hulu and other methods,” she said.
MOVIE THEATER REALITY
“That’s the movie theater reality unless there is another big shift, it’s a bit dead in the water. We’re trying to think creatively and offer classic movies or maybe art house films. We’ll try to do the drive-in again and expand the outside seating. People really liked the drive-in. We’re going to put in some weather coverage, awnings and heaters. With drive-ins, people could also sit outside for dinner and a movie,” she said.
Becker said that some in the industry feel that if there is a demand from the public for in-theater films, that that demand will be met; but for now, she’s focusing on doing her best to be open by mid-July with the restaurant and some type of outdoor film options.
Becker said she and her limited staff were going to give it their best college try and said that she was very lucky to have gotten the pandemic grants and loans that she did which allowed her to stay closed without going bankrupt and to support her staff and undertake the current renovations.
“Kevin was our super hero and got us the grants and loans,” she said.
She said she was also thankful that Mad River Valley Eats has been able to distribute meals from the property this spring and that the weekly sale of donuts was able to continue.
“That’s been a nice little injection of sugar into the community every week,” she added.