BY TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER
Big changes are in store when movies return to the big screen at Lackawanna County’s two movie theater chains.
The Cinemark Theater, 40 Glenmaura National Boulevard, Moosic, and Regal Theater Imax, 3909 Commerce Boulevard, Dickson City, announced they expect to reopen July 10, after spending months developing plans to ensure patrons’ safety amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Art Haus, 301 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton, has not set a reopening date as officials continue to consider how to best ensure customers safety given the theater’s unique dinner-show format, said Jennifer Warnetsky, general manager for the theater and the Marketplace at Steamtown mall.
At the Cinemark and Regal theaters, patrons will find more room between seats, but fewer seats. Parties can sit together, but will be separated from other patrons by empty seats. Theater capacity also will be limited in accordance with state directives — 50% occupancy — that are in force as of the opening date.
Movie theaters are considered entertainment venues under state guidelines and are expected to mandate patrons wear masks, said Nate Wardle, spokesman for the state Department of Health.
In press releases and information posted online, Cinemark and Regal said all employees will undergo health checks before their shifts and will wear masks. The chains said they will adhere to state regulations regarding mask mandates for patrons.
It’s unclear if face coverings will be required only in common areas, such as the lobby and restrooms, or if they must also be worn inside the auditorium as the movie is playing. State guidelines do not address that issue. Attempts to reach officials for the chains for clarification were unsuccessful.
Both chains said they have significantly ramped up sanitation efforts in their auditoriums and high-touch areas, such as the concession stand, box office and restrooms. They also will sanitize seats between showings using a non-toxic, fast-drying solution. Cinemark also will provide seat wipes for patrons who wish to do additional sanitizing.
“There is nothing quite like the awe and power of great cinematic storytelling on the big screen,” Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi, said in a press release. “Our teams are trained, prepared and eager to once again entertain movie lovers in an environment that cannot be replicated in home.”
Other major changes at both chains include halting refills on popcorn and fountain sodas and limiting food items available for purchase.
The chains encourage patrons to order tickets online and/or to use cashless options to pay for tickets and concessions. Cinemark will not accept cash for concessions, while Regal encourages customers to order concessions from its phone application.
Cinemark said it will stagger show times to reduce the number of people in the lobby and restrooms. It also streamlined its ticket verification process. Patrons who purchase tickets through its phone application or third-party vendor no longer will be required to also present a paper ticket. They need only show the confirmation QR code.
Both chains said patrons also will be asked to maintain social distancing in common areas and will have access to hand sanitizing dispensers.
At The Art Haus, Warnetsky said they are still formulating plans for its reopening. She noted the theater faces more challenges than a typical theater because it provides customers table-service dining in their seats.
“We have a full menu and also deliver to the seats,” Warnetsky said. “We have to follow guidelines as a restaurant and a theater.”
Warnetsky said owner John Basalyga is hoping to gain some guidance from the more established theaters before resuming showings.
“We are a locally owned theater and are new to the theater industry,” she said. “We are waiting to see what the more experienced theaters are doing and tweak it.”
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