A worker carries seats from MovieTowne, Chaguanas, as the movie theatre was cleared of items yesterday.

Soyini Grey

COVID-19 was the final nail in the MovieTowne Chaguanas coffin. Chairman Derek Chin said the market in Central Trinidad was changing, and people there were less attracted to the cinema-going experience. However, he said they have not given up on the area and were actively looking at existing malls and upcoming developments for a possible return. But as of yesterday, it was curtains for their Price Plaza location, and removal of fixtures had already begun.

“I don’t feel guilty. I tried my best and it didn’t work out,” Chin said.

He says after the company’s decision last month to close their multiplex in Price Plaza Chaguanas, the landlords reached out to negotiate. After several meetings, the exchanges of proposals and counter-arguments, and even several in-person meetings, no deal could be made.

Chin had described his landlords as unreasonable in the past. However, his portrayal of them is more nuanced. Endeavour Holdings Ltd (EHL) is a publicly traded company. It is the real estate investment company that forms part of JMMB Investments.

Chin said ultimately EHL could not grant MovieTowne, Chaguanas the level of concessions it would need to remain viable. The decision to close, he says, could not have been avoided.

He says the market in Chaguanas was both saturated and shrinking. There were also issues with the location itself. Price Plaza is no longer the only mall in the area, and even then, getting to the mall, and therefore the cinema is not what it once was.

“Access to the mall is a problem,” he said.

Chin said crime remains a threat to their business and with the availability of streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus, customers now have less incentive to leave home to watch a movie.

The public health measures implemented by the government to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus has also had an impact on his remaining business.

MovieTowne has 2,400 seats and under the governments 50 per cent restriction for cinemas, they can sell 1,200 movie tickets. However, Chin said their daily average is now 110 movie tickets. Before the virus and the lockdown measures, it was 500 on a bad day. On Thursday 139 people paid to watch a movie in the cinema.

Chin said news of a vaccine is promising as it signals the end of the global pandemic. He expects that in the new year Hollywood will start releasing new and exciting movies that can only be seen in cinemas.

While the curtain may have closed on MovieTowne Chaguanas, the group’s chairman remains confident in the entertainment sector and the renewed viability of the sector in a post-COVID world.