Milwaukee Business Leaders Marcus, Bartolotta Discuss Reopening Plans

Jun 17, 2020

Two leaders of the Milwaukee-area hospitality and entertainment industries are discussing their cautious plans for reopening some movie theaters, hotels and more restaurants. The moves come as companies continue to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Marcus Corporation plans to open six of its movie theaters on Friday, including four in Wisconsin. That’s just a small percentage of the 91 theaters Marcus owns in 17 states. So, company president and CEO Greg Marcus acknowledges Friday is part of a test of how ready the theaters are to welcome in customers and employees, and not make the COVID-19 situation worse.

"We're opening those not because we think we'll do a lot of business. We're opening to test our protocols. All these great ideas about the low-to-no contact," he said. "What does the customer want, and feel about all the things we're asking them to do? We're asking them to wear masks. Will they be comfortable in the seats?"

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The theaters will show movies that were popular before the venues closed in March, as well as the Harry Potter films. Marcus says he doesn't expect to open all of his theaters until major studios start releasing new films. 

Another theater chain, AMC, doesn't plan to reopen until mid-July. Independents like the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee or Rosebud Cinema in Wauwatosa say they're still working on when to open their doors.

Greg Marcus also told a Tuesday web session hosted by the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) that he's opened two prominent hotels — The Pfister and Grand Geneva Resort. He hopes the resort, near Lake Geneva, draws people from Milwaukee and Chicago who want a short getaway. 

Marcus says more hotels may open soon. "Our math right now is, will we lose less open or closed? Our goal is to lose less being open. Basically, just get to the other side. Eventually, this is going to turn around,” Marcus said.

Bartolotta Restaurants owner Paul Bartolotta says Ristorante (pictured here) will reopen soon. Two people at the Wauwatosa location were painting the entrance Tuesday evening.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Another prominent firm, Bartolotta Restaurants, operates 17 dining and catering facilities. Chef and owner Paul Bartolotta says he'll reopen his first restaurant, in Wauwatosa, shortly. Bartolotta says customers should expect to bring along a mask. He compares the situation to when laws starting protecting people against secondhand smoke.

"Secondhand smoking wasn't set up for the smoker. It was set up for the other person who doesn't want to inhale that smoke. If I'm going to be respectful to win my customer back and say I really care about your safety, but it's OK to breathe on my employee, I'm not sending a consistent message to my employees,” Bartolotta told the MCW/MMAC session.

But Bartolotta says if customers aren't coming in, that plan could change.  The same way many other businesses are frequently trying to adjust to COVID-19 and get back to profitability.

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