Princess eying ‘laid-back’ reopening, post pandemic

Eric and Kara Koss, co-owners of the Princess Theater, sit in the theater’s new recliner seats on Jan. 18. The theater’s previous 206 seats in the main seating area have been replaced with 76 leather recliners, among other changes.

To walk past the Princess Theater in Douglas feels like an encounter with a sweet relic of a bygone era. It is quiet. It is empty. The matinee display board on the outside wall is blank.

Closed since March 18 of last year, the quaint, boutique movie theater is possibly the only business in town that remains closed since the coronavirus hit, its co-owner Kara Koss contends.

And not without good reason. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on all manner of businesses and activities across the world, but one of the hardest hit has been the film and live theater industries, where large numbers of people are typically crammed into indoor spaces – the ideal conditions for spreading the virus.

Koss, who is also an agent and broker at The Koss Agency, the insurance and real estate firm in town, had just bought $1,500 worth of candy as they were readying to screen the new “Trolls” film, before the virus forced them to close.

“We still have a lot of it left. A lot of it has gone stale,” she said.

Koss, who co-owns the theater with her husband, Eric, is not alone in her situation. Many theaters across the country still remain closed, supplanted by online video services like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV and many others.

The very fate and future of the theater industry remains in question.

For Koss, however, the future is fairly clear: a reopening of the theater and a return to its regular programming of first-run films every night with matinees on the weekends.

But first, some modern upgrades are in order.

This past summer, the Kosses began laying the groundwork for an ambitious renovation of the theater, after receiving a $110,000 grant from the Wyoming Business Council.

The most significant change is a new fleet of seats in the main auditorium. The previous array of 206 standard theater seats have been replaced with 76 comfortable leather recliners. (The existing 32 seats in the balcony remain unchanged.)

Various areas of the theater, including the concessions stand, bathroom and exterior facade, have also been repainted.

There’s also new vinyl flooring in the lobby area emblazoned with Hollywood-esque stars as well as new tile flooring and wallpaper in the bathrooms, along with ADA-accessible sinks.

Koss also plans to replace the existing concessions stand menu with a digital display, along with touchless pay terminals for paying via smartphone or smartwatch.

An upgraded sound system with 11 new speakers and three amplifiers is also planned.

“We want to make the place more modern, but also retain its nostalgic feel,” Koss said.

Moreover, “we want to keep people in town, and keep up with the times,” she added.

The pandemic did have its upside for the Kosses: The closure of the theater provided a window of opportunity for them to make all the changes, she said.

But the wild card that could still stymie its reopening is, of course, the pandemic.

Koss said she hopes to have all the renovations completed by the end of January, to be followed shortly thereafter by an official reopening of the theater.

The new recliner seats are more spread out than the previous arrangement of seats, which will help to facilitate social distancing, she said. The seats provide more than six feet of distance between rows, though they fall short of this benchmark side-by-side.

Koss also said she would comply with all pertinent health and safety regulations, which currently includes a county and state mask mandate when inside any public business.

Movie theater-specific guidance from the Wyoming Department of Public Health also recommends that six feet of distance be maintained between individual groups at all times in all areas of a movie theater.

Koss hopes the spread of the virus decreases so she can open safely.

“I think it’s going to be pretty awesome,” she said of the renovations.

“We just want a theater everyone can go to.”

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