Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" hit the big screen this weekend, marking the first major theatrical movie release since the COVID-19 pandemic began in America in March.
But there are no indoor movie theaters showing it in New York.
They remain closed statewide, left out of the phased reopening that saw restaurants, retailers and other businesses return this spring and summer. Even businesses that were initially left out, such as gyms and casinos, have since been given the green light by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But indoor movie theaters are among the select few still shuttered.
And Auburn Movieplex 10 owner Jason Yantz finds that "mind-blowing."
Yantz told The Citizen on Saturday that he doesn't understand how indoor movie theaters haven't met Cuomo's reopening criteria yet. Yantz noted that New York is one of just three states, along with New Mexico and North Carolina, where they all remain closed. The governor, when asked about his rationale for reopening businesses, said, "It’s the level of risk. If you look at our metrics, we started (reopening) with the most essential business that posed the least risk. And then it was the gradation to the least essential businesses that posed the most risk."
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But the Movieplex will do everything imaginable to minimize that risk, said Yantz, who owns the Grant Avenue theater and three others in the area with his brother, Jeff, through Rochester Theater Management. They're working with heating, ventilation and air conditioning companies to install MERV-13 filters to capture airborne coronavirus particles. They'll ask all theatergoers to wear masks, except when seated, and all employees. They'll even stagger show times so the audiences of multiple movies aren't entering and exiting at once. Cleaning the new leather seats between every screening, installing Plexiglas at the box office and concession counter, placing hand sanitizer everywhere — the Movieplex will ensure that every one of its customers is safe, Yantz said.
"We're ready to go, we have everything in place," he said. "(Cuomo) just won't give us a chance."
Yantz based those safety measures on the state's guidance for gyms, as well as recommendations from CinemaSafe, a COVID-19 response program commissioned by the National Association of Theatre Owners. The state itself has told him nothing about the guidance or timeline for theaters to reopen, he said, despite letters he's sent to the governor and other elected officials, "begging to let us open." With no revenue since March, Rochester Theater Management took out a Payroll Protection Program loan, Yantz continued, but it wasn't sufficient.
Meanwhile, at Track Cinema in Fingerlakes Mall, 2020 sales are down 70% from last year due to the pandemic, owner Randy Currier told The Citizen.
Like Yantz, Currier doesn't understand why the state feels casinos are safer than indoor movie theaters. To him, it's "hard to believe the governor finds it more necessary to get casinos open so people can gamble away their money. Versus having movie theaters open so families can have a safe place to go in a controlled environment."
Casinos have multiple shared surfaces like slot machines and cards, Currier continued, which makes it difficult to reconcile them reopening before theaters with Cuomo's risk-based thought process.
The Track Cinema owner does believe casinos should be open, he clarified. He just believes all businesses should be. And the state should issue them all specific guidance in the interest of safety.
The state and federal government should also do more to support businesses impacted by COVID-19 and months of mandatory closure, Currier said. For instance, the New York State Assembly introduced a bill in March that would require insurance companies to pay the interruption claims of policy-holding businesses during the pandemic. But there's been no progress on the bill since.
"Business owners such as myself buy policies for protection of lost revenue," he said. "For insurance companies to deny claims to businesses saying they aren't protected for an illness is ridiculous."
As they wait for Cuomo to let them and other indoor movie theater owners reopen for business, Yantz and Currier are also watching that business change in response to COVID-19. Along with "Tenet," this weekend saw Disney premiere "Mulan" on its streaming service, Disney Plus, after cancelling its theatrical release. If enough subscribers pay the $30 fee to watch the new blockbuster at home, some analysts believe more studios could be enticed to skip theaters — or at least release movies at home more promptly after their theatrical runs than the traditional three-month window.
Yantz isn't worried that will happen, though. He believes streaming movie releases have been successful with everything closed and everyone quarantined at home. But with businesses reopening, and people eager to reenter the outside world, theaters are positioned to offer them that social experience. New York just has to let them, Yantz said.
"People want to get out, get popcorn and a drink, and enjoy a movie on the big screen," he said. "But Cuomo needs to give us a chance."
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