"Alamo is just like a Chili's or a Jason's Deli, and the reason Alamo did that from the beginning wasn't for growth," says Bill C. DiGaetano, the co-owner of the six Drafthouse theaters in North Texas. "It was to have owners in each specific market who have a vested interest in that community."
The national Alamo Drafthouse chain headquartered in Austin filed a written consent for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday in a Delaware bankruptcy court. The filing shows that the corporation and its parent companies will sell its assets to Altamont Capital and Fortress Investment Group so that Drafthouse can retain its managers — including the chain's founder Tim League — while it works to repay its creditors.
The Drafthouse is the first major movie theater chain to file for bankruptcy since theaters were forced to close or limit their audience sizes because of the coronavirus outbreak. The six local Drafthouse theaters — located in downtown Dallas, Richardson, Denton, Lake Highlands, Las Colinas and North Richland Hills — are owned by DiGaetano and his father Bill D. DiGaetano and operate as franchises under the Alamo Drafthouse name. All six theaters have been closed since last March except for a six-week period last year from August through September with limited capacities and mask requirements.
"Even though the Alamo brand is on 40 different theaters, there are seven or eight different Alamo franchise partners," Bill C. DiGaetano says. "For the most part, about half of the Alamo stores are franchisee stores."
Part of the challenge of reopening the theaters — in addition to the virus' susceptibility to airborne transmission — is that film studios have limited their number of new releases from week to week because of the low audience numbers.
"One big release for us doesn't do the job," DiGaetano says. "What we need is consistent releases, and that's what we're waiting for so that we can open again, because we're still going to have some challenges after that. But it's what we're waiting on."
There are some encouraging signs that theaters may soon be able to safely reopen. The COVID vaccine could be available to every American citizen by the end of next May thanks to a new Johnson & Johnson and Merck vaccine, according to a recent address delivered by President Joe Biden.
"This has been an absolutely devastating year for all theaters, and mom and pop theaters have been hit especially hard. Our intention is to reopen in the summer and get to what we hope is our march to normalcy in the theater business." - Alamo Drafthouse DFW owner Bill C. DiGaetano
Dallas County remains under a red level COVID-19 alert and even though Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted all closing and mask requirements for businesses, the local Drafthouses will remain closed until rates improve over the next several months. However, DiGaetano says new stimulus funding packages passed by Congress, such as the additional Small Business Administration and Shuttered Venue Operators grants, will provide the financial help they need to stay afloat while they remain closed.
"It's a lifesaver for many of us," DiGaetano says. "This has been an absolutely devastating year for all theaters, and mom and pop theaters have been hit especially hard. Our intention is to reopen in the summer and get to what we hope is our march to normalcy in the theater business."
DiGaetano says safety will remain the theater chain's top concern regardless of its ability to remain open.
'If we don't feel it's safe, it's not coming to our venue," he says. "I think it's great the governor is giving people a choice. We can wait and see how the rollout goes and other things that develop but for us, guest safety and staff safety is paramount and our policies will make sure that it the utmost concern."