Phil Litts walked through the front doors of the Lodi Stadium 12 Cinemas on Friday afternoon, and every employee greeted him by name.
The 74-year-old Lodi native had been sitting in his cane chair in front of the theater’s box office since 1 p.m., waiting to buy his tickets for “The War With Grandpa” starring Robert De Niro.
“I just wanted to be the first in line,” he said. “I’d go to the movies, pre-COVID, almost every day. So I wound up seeing the same movies three or four times. I just love the movies. This is my second home.”
Litts knows all the employees at the cinema, and said he has so many loyalty points with Santa Rosa CInemas that he joked he had a direct line to Keith Bouvette, the company’s regional manager.
He had been speaking with Bouvette on a regular basis about when the cinema would reopen, he added.
When Lodi Stadium 12 announced it would be reopening, Litts said it was an exciting day, and that he was grateful to the cinema’s parent company.
“This means a lot to me and means a lot to some of the older citizens around town,” he said. “We come here for matinees, and it’s a source of camaraderie and a source of family. That’s the wonderful thing about this.”
Like other industries and economic sectors, the movie theater shut its doors seven months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rumors circulated throughout Lodi that Santa Rosa Cinemas would not reopen the theater. Those rumors proved untrue, but the Lodi theater will operate on a limited schedule.
Executives with Santa Rosa Cinemas said hours will be 2 to 8 p.m. two or three days a week, showing a limited number of films for the first few weeks of its reopening.
Staff has placed signs and markers throughout the theater to encourage and remind patrons to maintain social distancing, and a safety monitor is present to ensure customers are following guidelines.
Seats inside the screening rooms are blocked off depending on size, Litts said. For the movie he and his wife Patricia were seeing Friday, three seats were left vacant between households. The larger rooms have six seats blocked off between groups, he said.
“I think they’re fantastic,” he said of the theater’s measures. “It’s necessary to a movie theater. The only change is they had to take out some of the benches. The concessions are open, not all of them. But the rest of it is just great. There is nothing here that’s an inconvenience or a detractor.”
Liz Bennett brought her mother, daughter and a friend to watch her favorite movie, the Halloween classic “Hocus Pocus,” starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy.
The family was happy to be back at the movie theater, she said. They were surprised the company closed in March, given it had already begun implementing social distancing protocols and routinely cleaning high-traffic areas and surfaces.
“We thought they were doing a good job before any of the restrictions were in place,” Bennett said. “They were separating up already, and you could see them cleaning everything, so you could tell they were already being really proactive.”
Cassandra Zamora brought her 10-year-old son to see “The War With Grandpa.” Her son needed a break from sitting in front of the computer for several hours a day, she said.
“It’s nice to be able to get out and do something,” she said. “You can only walk so much. We needed something new today. I had seen a post on Facebook that the movies were open, so I went to the PG movie listing and bought the ticket.”
Bouvette was optimistic that people would flock to the theater this weekend, given the doors had been closed for seven months.
“We are extremely excited to be opening,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for us. We want to show movies. We had a good little start to the day. Tickets sold for a lot of the shows over the weekend already.”