Movie buffs, rejoice.
After months of dark, deserted auditoriums, Culpeper’s Regal Cinemas finally reopened its doors to the public on Aug. 28.
Among the limited offerings for local theatergoers to select from at the 210 S. Main St. location are “New Mutants,” 20th Century Studios’ final installment in the X-Men film franchise; “Unhinged,” a road-rage thriller from Solstice Studios; and “Tenet,” a time-bending spy film from Warner Bros. and acclaimed director Christopher Nolan.
When contacted by phone Wednesday afternoon, Regal Culpeper General Manager John Scott was unable to provide a statement on the reopening due to the company’s media relations policy.
However, one employee did say earlier this week that the amount of foot traffic in the theater since last weekend has been higher than they expected.
“You can tell that people really missed going to the movies,” this person said. “I thought worries over exposure to [COVID-19] would cause them to trickle in slowly at the beginning, but we’ve had a fair amount of guests in here so far.”
The reopening came as Regal and other cinema chains across the U.S. continue to gradually ramp their operations back up following nearly six months of inactivity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After closing all of its theaters indefinitely on March 17, Regal decided earlier this summer to begin reopening them in phases based on state and local coronavirus guidelines. Locations were originally slated to start reopening on July 10, but that date was pushed back to July 31 and then, ultimately, late August out of an abundance of caution.
Some of Regal’s cinemas, such as its Fredericksburg location, reopened as early as Aug. 21. Others have yet to unlock their doors.
In order to protect its guests and employees, Regal has changed the way it operates during the pandemic.
From the moment patrons arrive at the building, they’ll begin to notice some distinct differences in how things work now as opposed to the status quo of six months ago. The most immediate of those is signage posted on the front door that warns customers they must wear a face covering at all times while inside.
Once inside, distinct floor signage placed 6 feet apart and installed everywhere from the lobby to the concession lines and the auditoriums reminds people to adhere to social distancing protocols.
Finally, after entering the auditorium for their movie, guests will find a minimum of two empty seats between their party and the next one. They are allowed to remove their masks while eating or drinking, but otherwise must keep them on.
During routine auditorium checks by employees, anyone who isn’t compliant with the face covering policy will be addressed directly. If they still refuse to comply, they will be asked to leave.
Regal employees are also required to wear masks at all times and are undergoing daily health screenings and temperature checks. In addition, they must wash their hands at minimum every 30-60 minutes depending on their job function.
Other social distancing and safe hygiene measures have been instituted as well. Some of those include shutting down vending machines and arcade games, suspending automatic refills with the purchase of a large drink or large popcorn and the installation of wall-mounted hand sanitizers throughout the building.
All of Regal’s coronavirus protocols can be found online at regmovies.com/static/en/us/corona-virus-response.
The new rules didn’t appear to detract from the moviegoing experience as patrons filed out of the theater on Wednesday night.
“I really didn’t notice a difference [inside the theater] as compared to what I’ve been doing for the last six months,” said Jessica Dyer, who viewed a showing of “Unhinged” with her husband Matt. “All they’re asking is for everyone to wear a mask and practice social distancing while inside, and that’s ingrained in most of us by now.”
Carlo Pereyra, who was drawn to the cinema to see “Tenet,” said he had to make one small adjustment once he was in the auditorium.
“I grabbed a handful of popcorn and started to eat it, only to realize I hadn’t taken my mask off,” he said with a chuckle. “Then, after I finished the popcorn and my drink, it probably took me five minutes or so to remember ‘Hey, I need to put my mask back on.’”
His food and beverage hiccups aside, Pereyra was just happy to be back in a theater.
“Just to be able to sit down in front of a big screen with some movie theater popcorn and soda was worth the price of admission alone,” he said.
Coinciding with cinemas reopening, the film industry is also starting to churn out new releases—some of which were supposed to be tentpoles of the summer blockbuster season before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.
“New Mutants” was originally set for an April 3 release, while “Tenet” was supposed to hit theaters on July 17. Others still to come are Warner/DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman 1984,” (some of which was filmed in Virgini) which changed from June 5 to Oct. 2, and Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow,” which scampered its way from May 1 to Nov. 6.
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