BUENA PARK, Calif. — It has been a frustrating six months for Julio Duran.
Duran is the general manager of Pirates Dinner Adventure, a live-action dinner show with locations in Buena Park, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.
While the Pirates Dinner in Florida is performing well since it reopened a couple of months ago, in California, health officials have kept his business closed because of the coronavirus.
Last month, Duran laid off 230 employees in Buena Park, according to the California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN Act, which requires employers to provide a 60-day notice to employees of mass layoffs, relocation, or closures.
It was a painful move, Duran said.
“We’ve held off for five months, but finally, we had to lay them off,” Duran said. “We don’t know when and we don’t have any expectations to reopen soon.”
As the coronavirus continues, businesses that rely on live entertainment are struggling to keep afloat while the state keeps their business closed to prevent the spread of the virus. With money received from the federal Paycheck Protection Program running dry, businesses with live entertainment are pressuring the state to finally let them reopen before they become a casualty.
At least one live theater venue in Orange County has closed for good because of the coronavirus-catalyzed shutdowns.
Duran was among several business owners and city officials who participated in last week’s Reopen OC press conference, urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to release health and safety guidelines to reopen Disneyland and other theme parks. Pirates Dinner Adventure, along with Medieval Times and other live entertainment venues, has been lumped into the theme park category, Duran said.
The governor has yet to release health and safety guidelines to reopen Disneyland and other theme parks across the state.
“For six months, the Disneyland Resort has been closed, and the consequences are dire with our regional tourism industry at a virtual standstill," Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Ament said in a statement. "The economic impact to our region is more than $1.3 billion in lost revenue to the cities, county, and local businesses.”
Pirates Dinner Adventure is a pirate-themed live dinner entertainment act and a popular tourist attraction in Buena Park. The 700-seat theater features an indoor lagoon and a Spanish-styled pirate shop. Guests eat dinner while being entertained to a live show featuring actors dressed as pirates. The shows are about 1.5 hours and tickets range from $62 to $82, according to its website.
Situated a block away from Knott's Berry Farm and adjacent to Medieval Times, the Pirates Dinner show attracts more than 250,000 people annually, Duran said.
Duran said last month the Orange County Health Care Agency would allow Pirates Dinner Adventure to reopen. However, he later found out that the agency would only allow for the reopening of the restaurant component. Without live entertainment, Duran said, he doesn't have a show or a way to bring in customers.
“There’s a lot of confusion," Duran said. "They think that we are like the theme parks. That’s why we have to wait until the governor releases the guidelines.”
It is unclear when the governor will issue those safe and healthy guidelines.
According to records, California Dinner Entertainment, the parent company of the Pirates Dinner Adventure show, received $350,000 to $1 million in PPP loans.
Duran said that money received at the end of April was able to hold them off for three or four months, but now they are in month six with this pandemic with no end in sight.
The most frustrating part, he said, is that the Pirates Dinner Adventure Orlando location is open and doing well despite certain restrictions since it reopened two months ago. The show has a capacity to hold more than 900 customers, but health and social distancing requirements have limited it to 350 people inside the venue.
“Our Orlando location is open. It’s been successful,” Duran said. “We’re following social distancing and other health orders [in Florida], but we can’t reopen yet in Buena Park. It’s the same virus. It’s the same situation in Florida as it is here. But we can’t open here.”
Duran is hopeful that the Buena Park location will open eventually. To prepare for that day, Duran's team opened and cleaned up a previously unused garden area on the property.
This will give customers more space to meet social distancing requirements once they are allowed back onto the property. He said they have to be ready for when the time comes to reopen.
“Like all businesses, we are just trying to survive,” he said.