Fairfax theater owner Mark O'Meara has started a curbside concession stand.

By Jelisa Castrodale
March 30, 2020

If you've seen a second-run flick at University Mall Theatres, or have silently mouthed along with the subtitles at Cinema Arts, then you might've run into Mark O'Meara before the show. The 67-year-old owns both of the Fairfax, Virginia moviehouses, and he's been known to ask the audience why they decided to buy tickets for a particular film, or to walk the aisles during the show, making sure that everyone has enough popcorn.

Credit: bhofack2/Getty Images

Now that both of his theaters have temporarily gone dark due to the coronavirus crisis, O'Meara is still doing what he does best: serving popcorn, and trying to ensure that his customers and his workers are taken care of. Cinema Arts is streaming the films that it would've been showing on its six screens—it gets half the money from the purchase of each in-home screening—and the University Mall Theatre is currently selling bags of large popcorn to go.

"Hey Everybody - to 'stay afloat' we are going to start a 'curbside' popcorn to go side business - JUST $3.00 for our LARGE popcorn (take out only) - if you call us, we will bring it out to your car for you!!!" the theater wrote on its Facebook page. "CASH ONLY — TO KEEP IT QUICK AND SIMPLE FOR EVERYONE!!!"

If you wondered who might be outside, hand-delivering those bags of what the theater calls "the best popcorn in the known universe," well, we'll give you one guess. O'Meara has been working the curbside concessions stand too, because he's worried about what will happen if he can't pay his employees. "I have a lot of kids working here that make a living on a shoestring, and I can’t pay that well,” O’Meara told Variety. "They can’t afford to lose more than one or two shifts a week, and I don’t know what to do.”

Popping all that popcorn is a good start. He sold $25 worth on the first day, but now the theater is averaging between $300 and $400 worth of takeaway popcorn every day. O'Meara said that he has also heard from a number of customers that wanted to know how they could support his theaters while they were closed. “I had tears in my eyes when I read those [emails]” he said. “Customers say, ‘You don’t understand how much this place means to me.'”

Last Wednesday, the National Association of Theatre Owners asked Congress to provide emergency relief and tax benefits. According to Reuters, more than 150,000 people work in the movie theater industry, a number that includes everyone from ticket takers to concession stand workers to the polo-shirt wearing staff members who have to sweep up all the spilled Junior Mints after each screening.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had to face mass layoffs in our industry,” Brittanie Bagby, the executive vice-president of the Missouri-based B&B Theatre chain. "Our hearts are breaking." (All 50 B&B Theatres locations are currently closed.)

Back in northern Virginia, Cinema Arts is currently selling gift cards, which will be ready for moviegoers to use as soon as things get back to normal—whenever that might be. Until then, O'Meara will be doing his best to help his staff, one bag of the "best popcorn in the known universe" at a time.