Doors that are usually open had to close suddenly during the March-April shutdown. The ticket window was dark, and the popcorn popper was still and quiet. The seats, so recently filled with friends and families, sat empty, and an empty theatre could have been a sign of the times. No new movies could have meant no more movies if the theatre closed down, but with the incredible support from the community, the JEM Theatre in Harmony is adapting and hanging in there until new movies come back to town.
In May, the weather warmed up enough for the theatre to utilize their Mobile JEM – a portable theatre experience that could be brought to any location. Mistakenly, some people thought the Mobile JEM was something being used only for 2020, but it is a service that has been offered every year and was handy during this year particularly. Utilizing a 16’x8’ screen, speakers, and a projector, the Mobile JEM is a mobile version of an indoor movie theatre. Amber Coaty, owner of the JEM Theatre, explained it this way: “The mobile theatre is what’s kept the theatre alive. If we didn’t have those, we might be in the same position as a lot of small theatres in the country where they had to close the doors.” Many people weren’t comfortable yet with attending the movie theatre in person, so Amber Coaty had to think outside of the box. Promoting the theatre with the Mobile JEM seemed like the perfect opportunity, and so Amber reached out to the community and asked sponsors to support several mobile events during the summer. The response she received was overwhelming. “Within 1-2 weeks I had every single sponsor I needed to get the money for the kids movies and to get the money to sponsor the Movies in the Park that we had behind BReaKeRs. Without them I couldn’t have done it, and we might not have been here. The sponsors of this town, 100% shout out to them. They’re what kept us in business.”
In May the indoor theatre wasn’t allowed to showcase any movies, but the JEM Theatre had permission to sell concessions even though the shutdown was still ongoing. Even with no movies showing, people came. “There were people who came and bought popcorn and concessions even when there wasn’t a movie playing.
They came and bought popcorn for their home movie nights and that was huge! That helped us immensely.” The combination of support from both sponsors and people buying concessions has given JEM Theatre the ability to keep moving forward and the opportunity to bring new ideas to the theatre.
One of the new ideas is a Friday night promotion started in September, called Dinner and a Movie, where JEM Theatre partners with Estelle’s restaurant to create an inclusive date night experience. Amber Coaty was bubbling with excitement when describing the promotion. “It’s a really good deal!! You get two meals from Estelle’s, two tickets to the movie, and a free concession item for $30. You can’t get a date night for $15 a person, that’s unheard of and you get amazing food and a movie!” Customers interested in doing Dinner and a Movie should call and make a reservation by Thursday so Amber Coaty can reach out to Estelle’s to put in the food order. On Friday night, customers arrive at JEM Theatre and are shown to their seats and the movie begins. Amber gets the meals from Estelle’s and brings it to the customers, where they can sit, eat, and enjoy the movie at the same time. Whether it’s an old movie or new, Dinner and a Movie is a fun, different idea to get people to come back to the theatre.
New movie releases are currently limited or postponed to be aired at later dates. For people still looking for the big screen experience, the JEM Theatre can be rented for personal use and is a great alternative for parties or family get-togethers. Customers can bring in any DVD and it will be played on the large screen with the full speaker sound. No DVD? JEM Theatre can stream anything from Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. With streaming capabilities, customers have unlimited choices for their viewing and all the enjoyment of the big screen. The price for a private rental is $60, and it is an ideal location for larger gatherings. When asked, “What do you want customers to know?” Amber Coaty shared this thought: “Don’t be afraid to come in! We have plenty of room – 215 seats. Plenty of room to spread out. Also don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Hey, can you do this at the theatre?’ I’m open to ideas! Family movie nights, company parties, family reunions, birthday parties, I’d love to get some more concerts in here! Don’t think of the theatre as just a movie theatre. It’s many other things!”
The holiday season is quickly approaching, and Amber Coaty is thinking about how the JEM Theatre can share holiday cheer this year. In past years, the Harmony Community Center would have a holiday event called Breakfast with Santa and then afterwards JEM Theatre would show a free Christmas movie with free popcorn provided by community sponsors. Unfortunately because of COVID-19 this year’s Breakfast with Santa has been cancelled. Instead, Amber Coaty looked on the bright side and said, “Instead of one Christmas movie, we’re going to watch a bunch of Christmas movies.” Thanks to sponsors there will be four or five Christmas movies shown during the month of December. “I don’t know the dates yet, and the hard part is narrowing down which movies we’ll show!” Some potential movies include The Santa Clause, The Grinch, Polar Express, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and maybe Miracle on 34th Street. The hope is people will come and watch a Christmas movie for free on the big screen and get excited about going to the movies again.
A great Christmas gift is a gift certificate to the JEM Theatre, and it’s a gift that doesn’t expire. Gift certificates can be used for purchasing tickets, concessions, or both, and they are available for sale at the theatre or there is a big stack of them available for purchase at Kingsley Mercantile, open Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. – 6 p.m, Saturday 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Perhaps the best gift of all is the sense of community Amber Coaty has noticed during this challenging year. “I’ve actually never feared that the theatre would go under because I know how much support I have in this community. I know it’s not going to be easy, I know there could be tough times, but if I cried out and said, ‘We’re struggling,’ I have no doubt in my mind that this awesome community would pull together and help us out. There’s not a lot of places left in the U.S. where a small business owner could say that – in our community we work together, we support each other, and we help each other and that is special.”