Hearne: Why Cinemark Won’t Come Clean on its Bedbug Problem

Whatever happened to big corporations doing the right thing in the public interest?

Or paying the price if they’re caught doing otherwise. Those were the days, huh? Which brings us to the very prickly situation at the 13 year-oldĀ  Cinemark Palace on the Plaza movie theater.

It’s no secret that the Kansas City Health Department and local media were alerted to a report that bedbugs were discovered at the Plaza movieplex. But rather than play it straight with the public at large and own up to the nightmarish pest presence, the Dallas-based theater chain engaged in a campaign of deceit and disinformation.

In her October 2nd column the Star‘s Joyce Smith got snookered into reporting that Cinemark’s Plaza Palace had closed temporarily merely because the company was “refurbishing the inside of the theater.”

It took Smith nine days to clue in via a tip to Kansas City’s 311 Action Center that Cinemark’s Palace was “infested with bedbugs.”

Whereupon Smith went back to Cinemark – after confirming the tip and that Cinemark was remedying the problem with the Health Department – but the company continued to refuse to confirm it was bedbugs.

In Smith’s third pass at getting Cinemark to come clean, the company again refused to confirm anything other than “insects” and fed her a line about refurbishing the seats to insure that “the issue had been resolved.”

Well, after doing the legwork Smith didn’t and attending a movie at the Palace earlier this week I can report that three separate staffers at the theater confirmed it was indeed bedbugs.

Raising the question of why Cinemark tried so hard and continues to obfuscate the problem.

Unfortunately the answer to that question seems obvious.

After decades of absence in this country, bedbugs have again become a very serious scourge.

“It’s the biggest pest problem in the country,” Mark Lillis, Schendel Pest’s Bedbug Division Manager told me yesterday.

Compounding the problem is that bedbugs are immune to 95 percent of the insecticides today and the only surefire way to remedy the problem is to raise the temperature to 120 degrees for several hours, a process that typically costs homeowners between of $1,000 and $4,000 because of the expense of the equipment needed to do the job.

Now think about the cost doing that at a theater with 14 massive auditoriums and 2,800 seats.

“I have done some theaters out of town,” Lillis says. “I built a ceiling over the chairs that was maybe six-feet tall and used Polyethylene as the ceiling. The Polyethylene held the heat in and we sectioned it off, so it’s a major undertaking.”

The problem with bedbugs is they’re “hitchikers,” glomming onto people’s clothes, handbags – even books – enabling them to spread from location to location.

Meaning that potentially hundreds, if not thousands of Cinemark patrons were exposed to the bedbugs and likely carried them home and to other locations after being infected.

“Every time they put a body in that seat, (they ran) the risk of that person getting bedbugs,” Lillis says.

Even if someone didn’t sit in an exacxt seat that had bedbugs on it, ‘bedbugs can sense another patron three seats back or three seats over or whatever,” Lillis says. “And they’re going to travel to that food source.”

By not coming clean with its patrons about its bedbug problem Cinemark temporarily dodged the bad PR bullet and potentially avoided the liability of people coming after them for the thousands of dollars in costs to rid their homes of bedbugs that they may have picked up at the movie theater.

Now here’s the really bad news.

Even though Cinemark refurbished its seats – the large auditorium 14 with a seating capacity reportedly of 377 was still being redone earlier this week – there’s absolutely no guarantee that the problem won’t return – and soon.

“There is no prevention for bedbugs,” Lillis says. “There is (only) early detection and the best technique for that is using a trained canine and that’s 97 percent effective based on research conducted by the University of Florida.”

Since nobody knows how many of Cinemark’s patrons may have picked up and remain infected by bedbugs, hundreds to thousands of moviegoers might well be likely to reinfect the movieplex upon their return.

“Well, you could extrapolate that to whatever number you want…” Lillis says. “The theater’s not bringing them in, it’s the patrons that are bringing the bedbugs in and then the theater becomes the transfer point. Just like any taxicab could be. Just like any public bus could be – planes, trains and automobiles.

“The only thing that can help (Cinemark) is the early detection. Routine canine inspections can at least provide an alert and the operator can respond early before the problem gets out of hand.”

Cinemark’s media relations department in Dallas did not return calls for this column.


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9 Responses to Hearne: Why Cinemark Won’t Come Clean on its Bedbug Problem

  1. Rick Nichols says:

    Perhaps the “Wellingtons” who didn’t want Mr. Bedbug hiding in their fluffy red rug had been out to see a movie the evening before, but this is obviously a serious problem and one worthy of an honest response from Cinemark, not that I’d hold my breath waiting for one if I were you. With rare exception, the days of corporate responsibility are largely a thing of the past, I’m afraid, as it’s all about “our public image” and “the bottom line” in the rush to please shareholders. Pardon the pun, but we’ve seen this “movie” before and, quite frankly, it’s getting a little old. Good piece with some “bite” to it!

  2. Dave says:

    Why do you and Joyce even bother insulting each other anymore? It’s obvious that both of you gnarled, crusty, paranoid old freaks are desperately in love with each other …

  3. jack p. says:

    Ouch Hearne. I attended a screening of “CLOUD ATLAS” earlier this week at Cinemark’s Palace and forgot to take my spray bottle of REAL KILL
    Does that mean??? OH—-MY—-GOD!

  4. chuck says:

    I wanna hear about Cloud Atlas.

    • jack p. says:

      Sorry Chuck but you’ll have to wait ’til next Thursday afternoon for the review! It’s under embargo ’til opening.

  5. Hearne says:

    But jack,’remember that more than 95 percent of the pesticides have no effect on bedbugs. You guys may laugh now, but when you find out your house has em and its going to cost like two or three grand to get rid of them (like my girlfriend did last year) I don’t think you will be laughing

  6. the dude says:

    Sustained temps of 115 degrees F kills all stages of bed bugs.

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