Trying to survive: West Mall 7 adds first-run movies, prepares for alcohol sales

Oct. 16, 2020

The only locally owned movie theater in Sioux Falls is making changes in an attempt to survive the pandemic.

West Mall 7 Theatres has added first-run movies to its second-run offerings and will start serving beer and wine sometime before Thanksgiving, co-owner Todd Frager said.

“A month ago, we were going, ‘Well, let’s try to get to the holidays, get to the cold weather,’ which obviously helps our business,” Frager said. “We’ve got a decent relationship with the landlord and vendors, but those are getting strained. It’s been six months.

“We’re fairly confident to go through the end of the year, and then we’ll just assess it. … For now, we plan to try to ride this out.”

The theater in the Western Mall began offering new releases in late August.

Getting approval from film companies to show new releases isn’t an easy process, Frager said, but it was essential given the crisis the theater industry is enduring.

“We knew we would not be able to sustain the business” remaining as a second-run theater, he said. “We think it’s a business model that will work.”

Tickets are more expensive than second-run shows, but they are less than the competition in Sioux Falls. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for teens and $4 for younger kids, seniors, matinee showings and all day on Tuesdays.

When new theaters in bigger cities started selling beer a decade, Frager was skeptical, he said.

“Habits have changed. Soft drinks aren’t covering the customer base anymore. There’s water, and we could have gone the coffee route. What we’re finding in the industry is that beer is working. Of course, it goes well with popcorn.”

The city approved his second request for a beer and South Dakota wine license in September. Now, he’s working to hire a few more employees who are 21 or older so they can sell alcohol and get them trained.

West Mall 7 will have a security plan to ensure that minors aren’t buying alcohol. Customers will need to show ID and wear a wristband. Drinks will be served in containers that are different from the soft drink cups, and employees will walk through the theaters, checking for wristbands.

Frager said he’ll probably start with a half-dozen choices: two South Dakota wines, regular and light beers and a couple of hard seltzers. At $5 a drink, he doesn’t imagine moviegoers will buy more than one or two.

“I don’t think it will bring in new customers but it will be a nice option for customers that want a beer.”

Since reopening in late May after the city’s limitation on businesses were lifted, West Mall 7 has enacted several coronavirus-related precautions. Moviegoers are required to wear masks when they aren’t eating or drinking, and seating is assigned, with capacity at 25 percent of normal.

Frager said he thinks people will begin to realize that limited seating makes it safe to watch a movie.

“I think we are going to have enough new product that we’ll give it a fighting chance,” he said. “This is going to be a long recovery.”

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Trying to survive: West Mall 7 adds first-run movies, prepares for alcohol sales

“For now, we plan to try to ride this out.” The locally owned movie theater in Sioux Falls is making changes.

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