Plan also underway to bring back drive-in
The reopening in November of the Story Screen Beacon Theater came at an inflection point in the pandemic.
The number of COVID-19 cases had fallen far enough from the highs of a spring wave that New York State felt movie theaters could reopen with capacity limits and strict health protocols. Story Screen resumed operating on Nov. 6, showing Tenet and On the Rocks.
Then, within a week, cases began rising, the onset of a second wave that was worse than the first. Story Screen decided to close again, said co-owner Mike Burdge.
“We got everything ready, spent a bunch of money on candy and popcorn buckets and all this stuff, and then we were only open for a week,” he said.
Now comes Reopening: The Sequel.
On Wednesday (March 31), indoor movies will return to Beacon with Godzilla vs. Kong, Minari and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. Three weeks ago, Story Screen reopened its Wonderbar lounge, which closed in December.
This time is also an inflection point: Cases have fallen dramatically as tens of thousands of people statewide are vaccinated each day. In addition, Hollywood studios are releasing a backlog of movies that had been postponed.
“We wouldn’t reopen unless we were absolutely certain that we were cool,” said Burdge.
Still, COVID-19 remains a major public health concern, and the state’s decision to give businesses freer rein is not without caveats. Movie theaters must limit capacity to 25 percent; have assigned seating; require patrons to wear masks when not seated; upgrade their ventilation systems and cleaning procedures; and disinfect between screenings.
At Story Screen, the capacity restriction translates as up to 23 people per screening in its larger theater, which can seat 86. Each group buying tickets will be separated by three seats and every other row will be kept empty, he said. The theater’s two smaller rooms will be limited to six and 14 people, respectively.
Meeting the ventilation standards could be costly for theaters with older systems, but the Beacon Theater had a modern system installed during renovations three years ago that pulls air from the outside, filters it and re-circulates it every 10 minutes, Burdge said.
Between screenings, the seats, railings and other areas that people touch will be sprayed with “hospital-grade” disinfectant from a battery-powered machine that straps on the back and looks like a Ghostbusters backpack, he said.
While shuttered by the pandemic, Burdge and his partners improvised. Working with the City of Beacon, in July they opened a drive-in theater at the University Settlement property on Wolcott Avenue. Beacon has asked Story Screen to operate the drive-in annually, and preparations will start at the site in May to bring it back.
“2020 — not that great,” said Burdge. “But 2021 — looking pretty good.”