Post-Vax, Oberlin Businesses Re-open, Welcome Back Patrons


Mads Olsen

The Apollo Theatre will reopen today after being closed for more than a year due to the pandemic.

On Wednesday June 2 many Ohio Department of Health orders related to COVID-19 were lifted, giving many Oberlin businesses the opportunity to reopen, expand hours, or loosen health restrictions. This past Tuesday, Slow Train Cafe opened indoor seating for the first time since March 2020, and today, the Apollo Theatre reopens after a year of being closed to the general public. 

Many of the businesses in Oberlin are easing into changes despite the end to public health orders this week. The Apollo will not require masks but will encourage unvaccinated patrons to continue wearing one. The theater will also keep limited capacity to encourage distancing. 

“We are maintaining social distancing,” said President of Cleveland Cinema Jonathan Forman. “What that really means is that in the lobby there are markings on the floor that everyone has become used to nowadays. The auditoriums are reduced by about 50 percent capacity to ensure that you won’t be seated next to someone who is not in your party. No one in front of you, no one behind you.”

Jessa New, OC ’01, owner of The Slow Train Cafe and the Local Coffee & Tea, is also hoping to slowly ease her businesses into reopening. For the time being, only Slow Train will have indoor seating, while the Local will remain take-out only. She will keep plexiglass up around the cash register. Despite only placing about a dozen seats in the cafe, Oberlin students and residents have been excited to return for a taste of old times.

“When I came in yesterday morning, it wasn’t as weird as I thought it would be,” New said. “The tables were filled for the most part. There were still some empty seats, but there was a table with students that weren’t wearing masks. And there was a table of older gentlemen who were having a really good time and some of them had masks on and some of them didn’t and the staff seemed to feel pretty comfortable as well.”

Forman is also hopeful that as people become fully vaccinated they will feel more comfortable returning to a group setting — like a movie theater. After over a year of limited releases to streaming platforms, he thinks residents will be excited to finally see a movie in person. 

“They should be excited about going back to the movies and enjoying movies on the big screen rather than sitting at home watching stuff on their laptop, iPad, or iPhone,” Forman said. “Movies are meant to be enjoyed with other people and the Apollo Theatre, to its great credit, has a wonderful large screen, great sound, and it’s a wonderful place to see movies with family and friends.”

College third-year and Cinema Studies major Chris Schmucki is one student excited about returning to the Apollo this summer. He is most looking forward to watching The Beatles: Get Back when it premiers this August. 

“I was happy to hear about the Apollo’s reopening,” Schmucki wrote in an email to the Review. “It seems like Oberlin is in a good position to reintroduce these shared spaces, and I hope people can regain the sense of community that comes with moviegoing. It’s been a while since I watched a movie with a group of strangers, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Besides being excited about welcoming patrons back to their businesses, business owners are also anticipating a return to less COVID-19 policing and more financial security. 

“It’s been very stressful having to police everyone who comes in trying to challenge the mask mandate and so on and so forth,” said New. “So now that I know that [the staff is] safe, I feel like it’s time to take that out of their checklist of things they have to worry about.” 

After a year of being closed, the Apollo is also hoping that people coming to see movies will help strengthen the bottom line. Unlike most businesses in Oberlin, the Apollo could not rely on government aid this year because the business is owned by Oberlin College, which chose not to apply for government assistance.

“There is a lot of stuff to look forward to and based on the number of calls and emails about when the Apollo is opening we are pretty optimistic that it’s going to be a very good summer,” said Forman. “Is it going to make up for being closed for a year? Absolutely not. It was devastating for us and everyone else who was closed but we are confident that as people get more and more comfortable resuming their lives that we used to have pre-pandemic that the Apollo will get back on track in short order.”

Despite having been open only a few days, New was delighted to see so many people visiting the café and looks forward to better times ahead. One of the most difficult parts of the last year has been the lack of government guidance and she is excited to some relief from making the hard calls about how businesses should run during a pandemic. 

“Not having to make any more of these decisions … that’s what I want to look forward to,” New said. “You know we are all just really, really, really tired of having to make these decisions, and then you’re not going to please everybody. And that is a really difficult place to be in when you’re in customer service, you want to make everyone happy and on a regular day, you’re not going to make everyone happy, but then you throw in all of this and we’re all pretty tired.”

New is not alone in feeling tired after a long year. Hopefully, this summer, students and residents have much to look forward to from coffee dates at Slow Train to summer blockbusters at the Apollo.

“We think the films that are coming out this summer will appeal to people and we are looking forward to them returning. We have family films, we’ve got action films, we’ve got all the films that people are used to seeing in the summer.”