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caption: Cinerama's new mural by Seattle design studio Invisible Creatures features fictitious movie characters and scenes.
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Cinerama's new mural by Seattle design studio Invisible Creatures features fictitious movie characters and scenes.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Posey Gruener

'We had to grab our things and get out': Seattle Cinerama lays off staff, closes for renovations

The downtown movie theater shared on social media Tuesday that it was closing for renovations and re-opening “later this year.”

The sudden announcement came as a surprise to both moviegoers and employees, who were laid off at a staff meeting Tuesday morning.

One of the fired employees is Asa Fager, a stay-at-home dad who’s worked in customer service at the Cinerama for two and a half years. Fager served the theater’s signature chocolate popcorn and kept the one-screen auditorium clean.

Fager was suspicious of shakeups at the theater after an email to staff last week said there were no new programming plans after Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi left, and announced there'd be a staff meeting Tuesday morning.

“We showed up and in less than 10 minutes, they told us that they were planning renovations, that all of us were no longer employed by the theater, and that we had to grab our things and get out,” Fager said.

Anna Imperati, a spokesperson for Vulcan, Inc., which owns the Cinerama, said the theater is closing for renovations to address a number of issues, “including an overhaul to the kitchen, replacing the carpet, and addressing normal wear and tear throughout the building.”

Imperati did not say how many employees were fired but offered that the company is “unable to retain concession staff, since we will be closed and unable to give staff hours over the next several months.”

Fager estimates up to 20 customer service staff like him were fired at Tuesday’s meeting. About the same number of seasonal workers were also let go last week.

“They gave us some information about how to look into unemployment,” Fager said, adding that “there was no actual opportunity to ask a question.”

In a document given to fired staff, Vulcan stated they did not give employees advance notice because “the break in programming presented the right opportunity to do the renovation now so we can reopen ahead of the year’s biggest films.”

caption: Fired Cinerama staff were not allowed to ask questions but were given this document on their last day.
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Fired Cinerama staff were not allowed to ask questions but were given this document on their last day.
Credit: Courtesy of Asa Fager

During his time at the Cinerama, Fager described Vulcan’s management as a “chaotic mess” and said Tuesday’s announcement “was a real cherry on top of a very long year of feeling very neglected and disrespected by this company.”

Fager said the theater was constantly running out of inventory including during the blockbuster showing of the latest Star Wars movie.

“There was a point where we literally ran out of everything,” Fager said. “We were out of popcorn, we were out of the powder that made the chocolate popcorn, we ran out of almost all the candy. It was embarrassing.”

Imperati of Vulcan, Inc. said the company will “be hiring a general manager who will oversee the day-to-day operations of the theater” during the renovations.

Fager said he will take some time to find another fun job that accommodates his family’s schedule. He and the rest of the fired Cinerama staff, who he said was a “comradery who loved talking about movies,” said goodbye to the theater this morning after the staff meeting.

“It was really kind of a shocking vibe for the whole group,” Fager said. “We all stood outside for probably 15 minutes, just kind of trying to figure out what to do.”

In its written statement, Vulcan said fired employees are eligible to apply once jobs are posted.

But Fager doubts he’ll re-apply.

“If there's one thing that Vulcan proved in the last year and a half of managing that place,” he said, it's "that they don't know how to manage a movie theater.”