Movie theaters across the Capital Region will be allowed to open to moviegoers on Friday for the first time since COVID-19 closures swept across the state in March.
Local theater operators on Sunday said they hoped to be ready to open Friday but were still unsure about the logistics of staffing, accessing films and the precise state requirements that will be expected once theaters do open.
Rich Adams, the longtime owner of Scotia Cinema, said he will check with his film booker on Monday about what movies are available and how much it will cost him to show them, adding that he would know early in the week whether a Friday opening will be possible.
“We are eager to get going,” Adams said Sunday. “We have been waiting for this day for seven months. We are happy to hear it.”
Theaters will be limited to 25 percent capacity after reopening and will only be allowed to host 50 viewers in front of a single screen. Adams, whose one-screen theater relies on second-run movies and has long offered $5 tickets, said 50 viewers represents about 15 percent capacity at Scotia Cinema.
Adams said he may have to consider raising ticket prices temporarily, depending on the costs of available movies, adding that movie selection will likely be a continuing challenge. The theater has been selling popcorn and concessions throughout the pandemic as a way to maintain a connection with its patrons. The practice has given the theater’s staff a chance to practice new health and safety protocols, Adams said.
“We are hopeful that we have enough people coming back to make it worthwhile,” Adams said. “We have everything else in place, we are good to go, we are eager to get going.”
Joe Masher, CEO of Bow Tie Cinema and president of the National Association of Theater Owners of New York State, on Sunday also cheered the governor’s reopening announcement. Masher noted that theaters have reopened in 48 states and that the industry’s health precautions have proven effective in those places.
“It’s a start,” Masher said, noting that if theaters prove they can reopen safely over the coming weeks, he hopes state officials will increase capacity limits by the holiday season. “It puts us on track to get our industry rebooted.”
Masher said there were still details to work out before he could commit to a specific reopening date but that he hoped to have at least some of the Bow Tie theater chain’s Capital Region theaters open – in Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and Wilton. He said the specific reopening guidelines have not been released yet – he said he hoped they would be available Monday – and that he had to figure out what movies would be available to show. He said he would know if a Friday opening was possible on Monday or Tuesday.
“I’m going to try my best for Friday,” he said. “Hopefully, we should be able to get open. Barring any unusual surprises, we will be good to go.”
Masher oversees theaters in New Jersey and Connecticut too, and said the theater’s safety precautions have been effective in other places. Bow Tie and other theater chains across the country are relying on the “CinemaSafe” protocols, which call for social distancing, capacity limits and mask wearing throughout a film.
But major challenges remain for the industry, Masher said. Like Scotia Cinema, some of the Bow Tie theater rooms will not even be able to seat 25 percent capacity because of the 50-person cap. Nationwide closures and the continued shutdown of the theaters in the nation’s two biggest markets – Los Angeles and New York City – has slowed the release of films and the investment in marketing that drives much of the foot traffic small and mid-size theaters count on for business.
“There are some great movies out there but not awareness around them,” Masher said.