SARATOGA SPRINGS — Employees were putting up marquee lettering outside in the cold, the popcorn was hot and fresh, but there was no Coke to be had.
Wednesday night’s storm, which dropped 35 inches of snow on Saratoga Springs, was bound to impact something about the downtown Criteria 11 Cinemas re-opening after a nine-month hiatus — and the Coca-Cola truck due on Thursday didn’t make it in time for Friday afternoon’s first showing. Customers would have to settle for bottled water.
But the storm wasn’t enough to stop the scheduled re-opens of the Saratoga Springs and Schenectady theaters owned by Bow Tie Cinemas, which like every other movie theater in the state were closed by state order at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the weather, Bow Tie Cinemas COO Joe Masher was excited to be back in business. “(The snow) is actually good for business,” he said. “These theaters are located in compact, very walkable downtowns, and people are going to come in to get away.”
In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said movie theaters outside New York City can re-open, though they remain closed in the city. Many upstate theaters that could open haven’t, but Bow Tie is going ahead.
The Bow Tie theaters have installed fine-particle screening MERV-13 air filters, and must follow strict new state rules, but Masher said the procedures are in place to make for a safe and enjoyable big-screen viewing experience.
“The way the business is, a lot of people are afraid to come back to the theater, but there have been no cases of COVID through theaters,” he said after a Friday morning ribbon-cutting in Saratoga Springs.
Auditorium capacity is limited to 25 percent, and online pre-purchase of tickets and refreshments is being encouraged — there’s no extra fee. People will still be able to buy tickets at the theater, but Masher said the goal is to offer a contact-free experience to those who want it.
Masher, who is also president of the National Association of Theater Owners of New York State, noted that movie theaters in most states have been open since summer.
Here’s some of what will be new for movie patrons:
— Inside the theater, customers will be required to wear masks except when eating.
— Every other row in the auditorium will be left empty, and at least two seats will be left empty between each party. The occupied seats will be sanitized after each show, and then the row that had been left vacant will be used for seating for the next show. Once a day, the entire movie house will be deep-cleaned.
“People will be required to wear masks while seated, and the staff will come around to gently remind them,” Masher said.
For now, each Bow Tie location expects to have about 10 employees — almost all of them previous employees who agreed to come back after the shutdown, Masher said. In normal times, each location would employ about 30 people.
“Statewide, there are about 10,000 people who work in movie theaters who are still out of work,” Masher said.
The timing of the opening gives the two locations a week of fresh experience before Christmas — the day when potential blockbusters like this year’s “Wonder Woman 1984” are due to hit screens around the country.
Bow Tie, which is based in Connecticut and already has several theaters open there, originally planned to re-open only the Schenectady Movieland 6 location at this time, but yielded to calls on social media for Saratoga to be re-opened too.
Some of those came from downtown Saratoga restaurants, and the theater opening will help other businesses, said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, who attended the ribbon-cutting along with state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake.
“Many of the requests came from restaurants interested in offering dinner and a movie, and if people come for dinner and a movie, they will also shop,” Shimkus said. “I think many of the requests came from businesses.”
Bow Tie will also be offering a “private party” option in two of the location’s 11 auditoriums. Under that option, people can rent the theater for a private screening of any of a number of movies, new and old, with the price ranging from $99 to $199, depending on the movie. Renting the auditorium allows the purchaser to bring up to 20 people to their private screening party.
“It’s been very appealing to a lot of people,” Mosher said.