After more than seven long and grueling months of uncertainty and trying to keep operations afloat despite COVID-19 restrictions, many theaters in Washington will reopen at limited capacity on Friday, including the two theaters on Bainbridge Island.
The Kingston Firehouse Theater will also open, but the Regal Theaters in Poulsbo are closed.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced looser restrictions on opening theaters on Oct. 16 at the appropriate capacity based on the phase of Inslee’s safe start-up plan their county is in. Bainbridge Cinemas and the historic Lynwood Theater will open at 25% capacity as Kitsap County is in Phase 2.
“Things are going to be different,” said Jeff Brein, managing partner of Far Away Entertainment, which operates the two Bainbridge theaters. “There will be plenty of room in the auditorium for people to move around.
“Movie buffs are sort of the original social distancers; no one wants to sit above someone else in a movie theater. We are not going to block the seats or oversee the seats. We’re going to let people do this on their own. If there are any issues or problems, we will be available to help you. ”
The real game changer that allowed these theaters to open up was the installation of high-end MERV 13 heating and air conditioning filters, which many theaters are using to reopen during the pandemic, Brein said.
“We have fully opened the fresh air registers on all of our units so that there is an abundance of fresh air entering the auditorium,” he said. “Our corridor is like a wind tunnel; the doors of the theater open with a breath. There’s so much air flowing in there – it’s a big difference from what it used to be.
Other COVID-19 protocols include plexiglass at concession stands, daily temperature checks for employees, mandatory face masks except when consuming food or drink, social distancing, encouraging customers to buying tickets online, cleaning outlet areas, opening all doors and spraying disinfectant in auditoriums between sessions.
“We’re going to limit our movies to two shows a day compared to the four we normally have,” Brein said. “It will be late afternoon and early evening. As our film product improves and people feel more confident and comfortable coming home and heading into the holidays, we hope the Governor increases our capacity. For now, we’ll just see how it goes.
“We really need to restore people’s trust like you would in a restaurant or a store,” Brein continued. “There has never been a case of coronavirus attributed to a cinema. We think we have a fairly safe environment. We will do everything we can to keep this going.
Brein said he knows theaters will show new movies but not the typical blockbusters around Thanksgiving and Christmas due to the delay in movie studio production for many expected films.
“We’re going to have an amazing 2021 if you look at everything that’s stacked up there,” he said.
Road to recovery
Getting to this point was a difficult task. After shutting down due to the pandemic, FAE began using its website and social media to promote virtual cinema, which involved selecting movies that people could pay for on the internet. Brein said they had partnered with various studios to receive a portion of that revenue.
“It’s not a lot. It hasn’t been very meaningful to us, but it continues to remind people that we are here,” he said.
Brein also said they had been able to secure grants for the Small Business Administration and Paycheck Protection Program to keep a “small staff” of employees and provide some “leeway. To pay for critical expenses.
“We had a free popcorn event at Bainbridge Cinemas a few weekends ago,” he said. “We had a really good participation rate and we raised money. We did not come out of the woods; there are challenges for us, but just being able to reopen the doors is a major step for us. We will keep our fingers crossed and hope for good things for the holidays.
There were concerns about retaining staff on leave, but Brein said most of them are returning to work.
“These theaters are the only theaters on the island,” he said. “We really feel that we are part of the fabric of this community. If we need help at any point, we won’t be shy to ask for it. We have an obligation to serve our community and we take it very seriously.
The historic Lynwood Theater, which has operated continuously since 1936 before the pandemic, will soon be celebrating its 85th anniversary, Brein said.
Sustainability of the theater
Even before COVID-19, there was talk of the movie industry suffering at the hands of streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and buying or renting movies from home. But Brein insists its theaters will be there for the long haul thanks to community support and providing a truly authentic experience that cannot be matched from your couch at home.
“It’s one thing to watch ‘Star Wars’ on your phone rather than watching it on a giant screen with a bunch of like-minded people with great digital sound,” he said. “There have been people for years who have been talking about the disappearance of cinemas. No one can duplicate the experience of a movie theater. Because of this, we don’t care about some of these competitive platforms. ”
Regarding the recent shutdown of Regal Cinemas across the country, including Poulsbo, Brein said the people of North Kitsap would now be drawn to its theaters or the AMC of Silverdale.
“In the industry, it’s not clear why they did this,” he said of Regal. “Some people assume it’s to get movie studios to say, ‘Uh, oh, we better come up with a good product. Look at all those places that slow down. We will not be able to show our films. “”
Brein added that Regal venues have 12-24 screens while Bainbridge Cinemas has five and Historic Lynwood Theater one.
Meanwhile, the Kingston Firehouse Theater will also open on Friday, owner Craig Smith said.
He added that the proper air filtration needed to safely open the theater to the public will be installed on Thursday.
The first screening weekend will consist of a rerun of Raiders of the Lost Ark three times a day, except for Sunda, where there will be two screenings.
The following films will be screened at Bainbridge Theaters on Friday: Tenet, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Broken Hearts Gallery, 3:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.
New Mutants, 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
War with grandfather, 3:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.
Honest Thief, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
At the Historic Lynwood Theater, screenings of The Personal History of David Copperfield will be presented at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
For more details, visit farawayentertainment.com.
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