Paris Theater Reopens to Excitement and Concerns




The Paris Theater in Midtown. Photo by Sirena He

Under the gleaming neon marquee, a group of equally glowing moviegoers waited in line to show their proof of COVID-19 vaccination to the attendant at the Paris Theater.

Movie theaters across New York City had to shut down last year amid the pandemic, but the Paris Theater on West 58th Street nearly closed its doors permanently in August 2019, when its managing company, City Cinemas, did not renew its lease. The Paris, which originally opened in 1948 as an arthouse cinema, was given new hope when Netflix bought it in November 2019, renovating it and adding an enhanced movie-viewing experience with films projected in 35 mm, 70 mm, and digital formats.

But the updates and new movie selections haven’t been enough. Since reopening at full capacity in August, the Paris Theater still isn’t getting the consistent foot traffic and employees say the recent vaccine mandate isn’t helping.  

“During the matinee showings of the Neftlix movie, ‘Kate’, we’ve seen two to three people at a showing,” said Joseph Mignone, an usher who has worked at the Paris for more than two years. Although “Kate” was the number one streamed movie on Netflix, Mignone said some of the weekday screenings have been empty. 

“It’s slower now than in March during our soft opening,” said Riley Winograd, a nursing student at New York University, who has worked alongside Mignone since 2019. She said one day was so slow that she didn’t need to cash out the register at the concession stand.

Paris theater ticket prices aren’t a deterrent either, as adult tickets are $16, a price comparable to other theater prices in the area, like AMC Empire on West 42nd Street, which charges $17 per adult for evening showings.

“Young people aren’t coming in, because they’d rather stream the movie at home, and older people aren’t interested in the Netflix movies. They’d rather us play foreign and independent films,” said Winograd.

The recent vaccine mandate and changing health guidelines has led to what Mignone called “an erratic year” for the theater. “It was tougher at the beginning of reopening to enforce Covid guidelines, but now it’s much easier to say it’s the city’s mandate and that we are just following the law,” said Mignone, adding that employees have had to turn away customers who forgot to bring their vaccination proof.

Lawrence Redick, who has worked at the Paris’s concession stand since before the pandemic, said he feels safer working with the vaccine mandate in place. “I’m not saying that you have to be vaccinated, but you can’t be here and not be vaccinated,” he said.

Linda Contreras, a new employee at the Paris, who previously worked at the American Museum of Natural History, said she felt better working indoors because she was vaccinated.

But Mignone said the inconsistent enforcement in public spaces makes it more challenging for the theater to require it. “When a customer was asked to show vaccine proof, he became angry, because he had just come from Madison Square Garden, where they did not check his vaccine status. We had to turn him away, and he was disgruntled. But it’s been enough time, people should be expecting it,” he said. 

According to the city’s health department, the average vaccination rate of all boroughs in New York City is 60%. In Midtown alone, the rate is 100% for first dose recipients who live in zip codes 10019 and 10020, which includes where the Paris is located. Yet, in spite of the high levels of vaccination, people aren’t filling the theater.

The new lineup of Netflix original movies and film classics are designed to attract a wider audience of moviegoers. As the last remaining single-screen theater in Manhattan, the Paris offers a cinematic experience that can’t be found elsewhere in the city, including mezzanine level seating, 571 plush chairs, and a big screen framed by sweeping velvet curtains. 

Robert Smith, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, had never visited the Paris before, but was enticed by its showing of cult favorite movies. “I came to see ‘Alien’ because I’ve never seen it in a theater before. It was nice seeing that type of movie with other people,” said Smith. “It feels good to be in a theater setting after not being there for so long.” 

At the premiere of “Army of the Dead,” usher Joseph Brown said nearly 300 people attended, mainly to see the film’s director and producer Zack Snyder. 

“The Paris also brings back a sense of nostalgia,” said Mignone. “People have personal connections with the theater. People have had their first dates here. They’ve been coming here for decades with their families. People come in to see films that they wouldn’t be able to find online. The classic films and the special screenings with directors and actors are the ones that sell out.”

“Because it’s a single screen theater, it feels like a different experience. It feels a little more special knowing that everyone’s coming there to see the same showing,” said Smith.