Empty rows in a movie theatre

AMC Ahwatukee 24 is scheduled to reopen tomorrow, Sept. 3, nearly six months after the pandemic forced it and all other movie houses and live theater venues to close.

The reopening of the multiplex in the Ahwatukee Foothills Towne Center at Ray Road and 49th Street comes several days after Harkins opened all its Valley venues and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema did the same.

Both Alamo and Harkins began special showings two days ago of what was supposed to be this summer’s first big summer blockbuster – Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” The Ahwatukee AMC schedule for its reopening does not list that film on its reopening card.

And if you’re planning to take in that flick – or any others – be prepared to wear a mask.

Unless you’re eating popcorn or some other munchies, you’ll have to wear one. Otherwise, you’ll have to either wait till Maricopa County relaxes its mask mandate – something not likely any time soon – or just go back to Netflix.

If you get to the AMC Ahwatukee 24 and forgot your mask, don’t worry: The theater will be selling them for $1.

And have your credit or debit card with you: all transactions, even at the snack bars, are cashless.

The Arizona Department of Health Services last week gave the green light to the theaters’ safety plans for reopening as the it weighs reopening requests from hundreds of theaters, bars and gyms.

It’s tricky for bars.

Only those that convert to “restaurant service’’ can reopen.

That means customers must be escorted to tables, groups limited to no more than 10, no standing or mingling, and limited waiting areas.

And patrons will have to forget dancing, karaoke or looking for love. Social distancing will be enforced.

Bars that only serve wine and beer and those that serve booze as well but don’t serve food remain closed – and will be indefinitely.

Indeed, over the weekend, state health officials padlocked the doors to two Scottsdale bars and yanked their licenses for reopening without permission.

With benchmarks showing fewer cases of COVID-19 in Maricopa County, gyms and fitness centers were allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity.

But they are required to provide the state Health Services Department with an attestation of compliance with its safety protocols and post that in a visible site on their premises. More information is at azhealth.gov.

The department also issued an announcement encouraging people to report violators to either the state or county health department or even local police.

Multiplexes will offer a different experience.

Audience capacity has been reduced to 40 percent or less to reduce the number of people hanging around in the lobby. 

Additionally, screening times are being staggered and the time between showings expanded to accomplish the same thing as well as allow time for additional cleaning.

Stickers on the floors will instruct visitors how to navigate the common space without getting too close to others. 

“There is no question that this has been the most difficult time in my 50 plus years in the business. I am so excited and so appreciative of our incredible team and tremendously loyal guests that have continued to support us through this challenging time,” said Dan Harkins, owner of the theaters that bears his family’s name.

Harkins President/CEO Mike Bowers said reopening is not only good news for them but for moviegoers numbed by the wave of pandemic-related news in recent months.

 “In trying times, people have always looked to us to escape for just a few hours of solace and to immerse themselves in another world,” said Bowers.

Social distancing also will be maintained by staggering the seats that can be occupied. Automatic ticketing will block off seats so that only couples or groups of four can sit together, separated by several empty seats on either side.

Harkins said its new protocols “will meet or exceed uniform guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, governmental health authorities and the National Association of Theatre Owners so that guests can sit back, relax, and get lost in the magic of the movies.”

Harkins is adding enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, daily health checks for staff, social distance seating between every pair of seats and reduced audience capacity and showtimes.

Harkins Loyalty Cups will be refilled with a new paper cup and all other refills on paper drink and popcorn containers will be discontinued until further notice.

Along with hand sanitizers throughout its theaters, AMC and Harkins have installed increased fresh-air, hospital-grade MERV 13 air filters and HEPA filtered vacuums in all auditoriums.

Alamo is also taking an additional step over Harkins and AMC by assigning one employee to a special position it calls “the lobby mayor” to guide guests around common areas and maintain traffic flow. 

In a way, closing theaters made little difference for movie fans since blockbusters were already moved to late this year and even next.

Hollywood started cancelling or delaying the release of many highly-anticipated films in mid-March and eventually resorted to releasing some movies through video-on-demand services.  

The reopening of the Ahwatukee AMC will be welcome news to the other shops in the strip mall, particularly restaurants, because they depend on the foot traffic generated by the multiplex.

For a while, it was unclear if AMC would even reopen.

“AMC is carrying billions in debt and has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for months,” The Hollywood Reporter said two months ago of the nation’s largest movie chain.

Information: drafthouse.com, harkins.com, amc.com.

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