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Movie Theaters Want To Reopen; Gov. Cuomo Not Ready To Give The Go-Ahead

Theater operators, New York state lawmakers and local officials are calling on the state to allow movie theaters to reopen from coronavirus shutdowns, but the governor says not so fast.

Although Governor Andrew Cuomo is allowing New York's gyms to begin reopening Monday, he's been cool to the idea of extending reopening privileges to movie houses. Bow Tie Cinemas CEO Joe Masher is also president of the National Association of Theater Owners of New York State:

"We're certainly hoping that we can get theaters open soon. If not, they're going to close forever."

Outside Albany’s Madison Theatre, Masher said many independent theaters serve as pillars of their local business or downtown communities. He claimed there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission in states where movie theaters are open.

“Theaters can reopen safely. We've proved it in the 42 states that we've opened. We can reopen as safely as malls, retailers and restaurants that have done so already. Certainly more so than bowling alleys and gyms."

Masher adds theaters encourage online purchases of tickets and concessions prior to a night out at the movies.

"In a movie theater, there is no talking, obviously. We certainly hope not. Everybody's facing the same direction and we are able to do contact tracing if necessary."

Masher says safety precautions including capacity reductions, plastic partitions, filtered air, social distancing and sanitizing protocols have all been put in place, and if gyms and bowling alleys can re-open, why not movie theaters?

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan agrees local theaters are economic drivers and says it’s time for Governor Cuomo to implement reopening plans.

"We've been advocating for common sense reopening guidelines. And I think that at this point, as hard as the governor has worked on this and as outstanding as his leadership has been, and we are so grateful for all that he has done to keep New Yorkers safe, to get New York to the place where we are now, where we're a model for the country, now it's at a point, an inflection point, where we have a little bit of dissonance. Where, you can go to a gym and workout, you can go bowling, for as long as you want, but you can't come safely to a movie theater. And so we need to work quickly to ensure that we take these plans seriously, these well though-out reopening plans, get them implemented an get these theaters open."

In a WAMC interview Wednesday, Governor Cuomo said movie theaters will likely be the next to re-open once it’s safe to do so.

"They are less essential and more dangerous than gyms and bowling alleys. That's the matrix in all of this remember. It is 'how essential is the business, how dangerous is the business.' And movie theaters I think are next. They're congregate. They have a centralized ventilation system. People by definition are not moving around. You're in close proximity to another person through a prolonged period of time.  If you are positive and you are breathing in and out and you're sitting two seats away from another person, it could be a real problem. But they are a situation that we have to attend to."


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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