Claremont’s Laemmle Theater relights its screens, welcomes back students

A movie theater has a "Laemmle's Claremont" sign.
The Laemmle Claremont 5, a movie theater in downtown Claremont, is finally open again after 13 months. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

For the last several months, going to the movies has meant opening one’s laptop, choosing from one of the now overwhelming number of streaming services and scrolling through hundreds of options. 

“It’s really a different way of experiencing films,” Caroline Hardy PO ’24 said. “Before, all you had to do was buy a ticket to the movie theater. But now, do you have the technology? Do you have the streaming service? Do you have the money to pay for the extra thing? It’s not just about buying a ticket anymore.”

Fortunately for 5C students like Hardy, laptops are no longer the only option for movie-viewing now that we’re back in Claremont.

The Laemmle, Claremont’s theater on West 2nd Street, is open once again: The showtimes are posted, the popcorn machines are popping and velvet ropes section off the lobby from the back. 

Working at Laemmle’s Claremont 5 location since 2017, Samantha Cummings has held positions in the box office, concession booth and now as one of four managers. 

“I’ve loved working here,” Cummings said. “I like that it’s really like a family… Especially in the past, we had a much bigger staff, and we were all really there for each other.” 

With the ability to see free movies, Cummings also appreciates the perks. “We get good movies rather than just all the blockbusters. It’s kind of opened my eyes to more cultural movies and stuff like that,” she said.

On Mar. 15, 2020, however, that supportive and fun community — along with the Laemmle Theater chain’s other locations — closed amidst the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. 

Cummings found other employment while Laemmle’s doors were closed for nearly 13 months. “We all expected it to close [permanently]. We did not expect to come back,” she said. 

Despite the empty theater rows and switched-off screens, the theater found ways to supplement their lost income during this period. Laemmle set up a virtual cinema, making a variety of movies available for streaming. This service is still accessible on Laemmle’s website

In addition, the lobby area saw a little more activity when The Reverse Orangutan, a coffee shop, began renting the space in September 2020. The shop still holds part of the concession stand, working side-by-side with Laemmle’s employees. 

Contrary to the staff’s expectations, Laemmle’s Claremont location reopened on Apr. 9, 2021. 

Upon hearing the news that she would return to work, Cummings had some hesitations.

 “I was a little scared just because [of] working in the public again. But I got vaccinated before I started and that made me feel more at ease. But I was really excited to get back.”

The coronavirus has certainly not disappeared, and the theater is taking multiple precautions to shield against it: required masking when not eating or drinking, plexiglass barriers, more extensive cleaning procedures, assigned seating and buffer seats in between distinct parties. According to Cummings, COVID-19 has “made us shape up with the cleaning and everything.” 

Double-masking for a period, Cummings had her worries about working in a high-traffic setting, but has found enjoyment in the process as well. 

“It was great to interact with the customers,” she said. “I saw a lot of regulars come back. So it was nice to see who’s coming back, who’s not. Kind of some worry there. But I was just really happy to see people.”

Senior citizens make up Laemmle’s largest customer population, but 5C students are also frequenters, especially this month with the release of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Cummings said she is still “hoping that [the amount of 5C customers] picks up.”

Hardy was one of those 5C students who went to Laemmle Theater to see “Shang-Chi.” She and four friends took advantage of the Sunday night student discount and walked into the village for a 7 p.m. showing. 

With a line out the door, the Laemmle was certainly open and bustling. “We were really concerned that we weren’t going to get in,” Hardy said. 

Fortunately, the line moved along, and the group was able to purchase their $9 tickets, find their assigned seats and settle in for a show. 

“It was the first time I’d been at a movie theater since March 2020 when everything shut down,” Hardy said. 

Despite the long line and number of fellow movie-goers, Hardy felt safe in the theater, COVID-wise. Nonetheless, Hardy said “it felt very surreal to walk back into an environment like that.” 

Despite its closing of many theaters, the pandemic also gifted many of us more time to watch and appreciate cinema. Perhaps we can continue to carry this appreciation — and we can carry it over to West 2nd Street.

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