Cinema reopening delayed with aim to reopen ‘in the near future’

Sutton Coldfield's Empire Cinema
Sutton Coldfield’s Empire Cinema

Empire, who currently operate in 14 cinemas across the country, had outlined a staggered reopening starting with Ipswich, Swindon, Walthamstow and Great Park.

They had pencilled Sutton’s cinema in for a May 28 reopening, ahead of the bank holiday weekend.

That re-opening date has not materialised and a spokesperson for Empire said: “During preparations for reopening the cinema back in May we identified a technical issue that prevented us from doing so.

“We are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible and hope to be able to announce our reopening in the near future.”

When Empire Sutton Coldfield does open, it will be with reduced seating capacity, while there will also be limited film screening times to reduce crowds.

Other measures include social distancing signs throughout the sites, plastic screens at till fronts, hand sanitiser stations and enhanced cleaning across the cinema.

All cinema-goers will be required to wear a face covering during their visit, unless they are eating and drinking or are exempt. Empire is recommending pre-booking online and using contactless payment methods.

Justin Ribbons, CEO of Empire Cinemas, said: “We’ve all missed not being able to watch a film at the cinema on a big screen and we can’t wait to welcome customers back.”

Columnist Gary Phelps, who writes for the Royal sutton Coldfield Chronicle Week, is among those eager for the return.

He wrote: “There can’t be anyone who grew up in Sutton who doesn’t have fond memories of the Empire Cinema.

“Known for decades as the Odeon, the much-loved picture house has entertained generations of Sutton folk.

“When it opened in 1936, it was one of the flagships of Brummie cinema tycoon Oscar Deutch’s empire and is currently one of just a handful of the original Odeons still showing films.

“Why? Because this iconic grade 2 listed landmark is a survivor.

“When TV first caught on, cinema audiences plummeted. In Sutton, the show went on.

“In the eighties, the Odeon survived the arrival of home video, when dozens of locally-owned video rental stores popped up across the town.

“At one point, the Odeon decided to fight fire with fire and opened a video shop inside the cinema – which always struck me as a bit like opening a cake stall at Weight Watchers. But still the show went on.

“Then there was the arrival of the multiplexes. When the huge Showcase cinema opened in Erdington, people said the Sutton venue was on borrowed time. The Showcase is now gone. In Sutton, the show went on.

“When the multi-screen cinema at Star City opened, they even flew in George Clooney by helicopter to cut the ribbon. In Sutton, the show went on.

Whether faced with the Luftwaffe or Netflix, the Empire has always managed to strike back.

“So, why does it endure? Partly because of its charm, partly because of its dedicated team, partly because of a sound business plan. For me though, thanks to memories I have of the place, it’s because I’m invested in it, like the plot of a good movie.

“Who remembers buying sweets from the shop next door and guiltily sneaking them in, past the box office? Who remembers throwing things from the balcony onto the seats below, back when screen 1 had two levels?

“On one summer afternoon, me and my big brother hid like outlaws under the seats at the end of a film, so that we could watch it again for free – an act of rock’n’roll rebellion only slightly ruined by the fact the movie in question was the Aristocats.

“I saw Superman there as an eight-year-old and queued round the block as a teenager to see Batman.

“Then, of course, there were the times when local wags would climb up and swap around the letters on the big illuminated sign to make rude words, changing ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ to ‘Gorillas on the p***’. It wasn’t big or clever, but I have to admit it was quite funny.

“I’m sure Sutton film lovers are once again excited at flipping back the Empire’s seats to enjoy movies there.

“The show must go on, a love story in glorious technicolour. Why not join the cast?”

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