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NYC movie theaters to reopen next month in latest step toward normalcy

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Lights, masks, action!

Movie theaters can reopen in New York City at limited capacities next month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday, in the latest step back to normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting March 5, theaters will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity or a maximum of 50 people per screening, whichever is lower, Cuomo said during a telephone press briefing.

Masks are mandatory, and seating will be assigned with social-distancing in mind, the governor said.

Patrick Corcoran, vice president of the National Association of Theater Owners, cheered the announcement — while clamoring for a sequel.

“New York City is a major market for movie-going in the US. Reopening there gives confidence to film distributors in setting and holding their theatrical release dates and is an important step in the recovery of the entire industry,” said Corcoran, noting that no coronavirus outbreak has been traced to a US theater.

A movie theater in Times Square with a "Temporarily Closed" sign on March 28, 2020.
A movie theater in Times Square with a “Temporarily Closed” sign on March 28, 2020.Christopher Sadowski

“We look forward to expanding the capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent in the very near future so that theaters can operate profitably,” he said.

Matthew Viragh, owner of Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema called the reopening “great news” — but said he’d need to see whether “that level of business is sustainable.”

“We’re built to run at a much higher capacity, obviously, so that’s the challenge here. It’s exciting news, but we also have to figure out how to run a place at 25 percent capacity and not run it into the ground. It’s going to be about tinkering with how to scale it down for the time being and then throttle it as things increase.”

Viragh noted that the reopening date is a week shy of the day that theaters in the state closed, March 12, 2020. 

“It’s pretty crazy to think about in the sense of, where has the year gone? We’re excited, though,” Viragh said. “We can definitely get open. We’ll try to ride the wave, but we have to see how it unfolds. I really just don’t want to open the doors and have to close down again.”

Meanwhile, beginning March 15, wedding and catering halls also can resume operations at 50 percent capacity, or up to 150 occupants, Cuomo said.With the rollout of the vaccine ongoing, Cuomo in recent weeks has announced phased reopenings of restaurants for indoor dining, as well as amusement parks.

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