Theaters in New York City may reopen, but will people go?

For the first time in almost a year, New York-based movie operator Nicolas Nicolaou can breathe a sigh of relief. That’s because Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that movie theaters in all five boroughs could reopen starting next month, a potential respite for a sector of the entertainment industry that has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nicolaou owns three theaters in the city: Cinema Village in Manhattan, Alpine Theater in Brooklyn, and Cinemart Cinemas in Queens. Due to the damage from the frozen pipes, he doesn’t expect those places to reopen until April 2. When you can turn the marquee lights back on, your locations will be operating at 25% capacity, or 50 people per auditorium, which means it will be next to impossible to make money. Still, he says he is grateful for the opportunity to welcome clients after what he calls “the worst year of my life.”

“At 25% of capacity, you can’t operate profitably,” he says. But he plans to restart his businesses anyway because he feels it will be “proof that the coronavirus cannot be traced to theaters.” He adds: “Within a reasonable period of time, hopefully we will be allowed to operate at 50%, which makes the most economic sense.”

The approval for the reopening of New York City theaters has a meaning that extends far beyond the Big Apple. With multiplexes closed in the country’s most populous city, studios have been forced to delay their biggest movies or send them to streaming services. While the news doesn’t necessarily mean blockbusters will salute the big screen anytime soon (theaters in Los Angeles, another mega movie market, remain closed and theaters that have reopened elsewhere are nearly empty), many still see it as a positive advance in repairing the battered film industry.

“It’s a very important piece of the puzzle,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore. Hopefully this will encourage studios to put out their great movies. I don’t want to be too Pollyanna, but at least this gives us a chance to get back to normal. “

For larger theater chains such as AMC Theaters, it is more realistic to reopen in two weeks despite the short turnaround time. AMC, which has the largest presence in the country, plans to reopen all 13 locations in New York on March 5. Adam Aron, the company’s chief executive, said Monday that the decision is “another important step in restoring the health of the film industry. “

Consistent with protocols at other AMC locations, it says New York City venues will comply with AMC Safe & Clean policy, which includes “social distancing and automatic seat blocking in each auditorium, mandatory use of masks and filtration air filter with MERV-13 “air filters. as well as many other major health, sanitation, and cleanup efforts. “The National Association of Theater Owners, the film’s premier lobby group, noted that theaters across the country have been operating” safely. and accountable “to higher capacity limits for many months without any COVID-19 outbreak.

Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, the second and third largest circuit in the country, will not be affected by the announcement. All of the Regal locations have been closed since September and will not reopen until the studios begin releasing more franchise films. And Cinemark has no locations in the city.

Alamo Drafthouse, a smaller chain known for its theater dinners, intends to reopen its Brooklyn space in the foreseeable future. It is unclear how independently owned theaters in New York City, institutions like Angelika, Film Forum, IFC Center or Metrograph plan to operate. For many, it may be more economically viable to remain closed.

An Alamo Drafthouse spokesperson says: “We don’t think we will make it by March 5, there is a lot to do, but we hope to reopen City Point. [in Brooklyn] ASAP and we’ll make a lot of noise when we do. “

Dusting off the projectors is only half the battle. There is also the question of getting people to go to the movies.

Before the pandemic, New York City resident Stephanie Walls frequented theaters with the same compulsion that might inspire one to enter a warehouse for warmth in the winter. If you were just stopping by a theater, you would check show times and buy a ticket on a whim. This is in part how the 34-year-old got to watch “Black Panther” seven times the week the Marvel blockbuster opened in 2018.

But despite his deep and almost thoughtful love of going to the movies, Walls doesn’t plan to return anytime soon. You have not yet received any doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and even when you do, you anticipate that you will be wary of returning to your old way of life.

“I don’t know if I have faith in how the country has dealt with the pandemic,” Walls says. “I can only control what I do and make sure I have as little exposure as possible.”

Brooklyn native Drew Katz, 24, says he used to go to the movies twice a month and estimates he saw “everything.” Now, he says, nothing short of a vaccine will make him return.

“There is no way to know if the air filtration is working,” he says. “No distancing is going to convince me that it is safe to sit in a room with 49 other people for two hours.”

Juan Manangon, who lives in Brooklyn and has stopped his AMC Stubs A-List subscription, admits he’s not sure how to feel about the theaters reopening. “I want it to be like it was before, but it won’t be like that,” says the 39-year-old media researcher. “If I decide to go, I would wait a couple of weeks to see what people have to say: reviews of health protocols and how the city is doing in terms of infection rates.”

It’s less confusing for 35-year-old Matt Parker. You will not return until you are vaccinated. “It’s just not worth worrying about risk,” he says. “We have spent so much time with the sacrifices. [I] I need to get it done so it was worth it. “

The Brooklynite Antonio Harris, on the other hand, doesn’t hesitate. Consider returning to theaters as a restoration of “some kind of normalcy.” With theaters closed in the boroughs, he traveled to Jersey City to get his fix: He saw “Promising Young Woman” three times.

“No one was ever there,” he says. “It was an unsettling feeling, but I was okay with it being empty. It was a relief “.

He told himself that he wouldn’t allow himself to eat concession snacks, but ultimately, the allure of buttered popcorn was too tempting to turn down. “I had to get it,” says the 24-year-old, a hiring coordinator at a technology company. When he wasn’t chewing popcorn, he made sure to stay double-masked.

Brennan Jackson, 25, also says he’s delighted to be seeing movies on the big screen again. He plans to purchase a ticket to Disney’s animated adventure “Stripe and the Last Dragon” on March 5, the day theaters in New York City can reopen. “It’s a sign that things are slowly but surely beginning to get back to normal,” he says. He hasn’t been vaccinated yet, but says the precautionary measures in place are enough to make him feel safe. He compares a trip to the movies to the same level of risk as going to the supermarket.

“If there were no capacity limits for cinemas, I wouldn’t want to go,” he says. “But seeing that they are limiting 50 people is fine by me.”

“Honestly,” he continues, “I need a place to go after being alone for almost a whole year.”

Nicolaou, the theater owner, hopes other New Yorkers will be equally uneasy. In the decades that he has owned his venues, he has kept ticket prices low to ensure that locals of all financial backgrounds can afford a movie check. Even with reduced foot traffic, you plan to continue charging lower rates.

Recognize that it can be a slow process. And while the virus is still spreading in the United States, Nicolaou remains optimistic that the country will emerge from the global health crisis by meeting pandemic safety guidelines provided by scientific experts.

“We have to listen to Fauci,” he says. “He’s from Brooklyn.”

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