As cinemas look to reopen, lack of new releases adds to movie house horror

The owners of Phoenix Theatres Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield plan to reopen the North Street venue Feb. 26.

PITTSFIELD — It soon will be possible to see a movie in a Pittsfield theater again.

The owners of Phoenix Theatres Beacon Cinema announced Tuesday that they plan to reopen the six-screen North Street complex Feb. 26. Pittsfield’s only movie theater has been closed since March, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cory Jacobson, the owner of Michigan-based Phoenix Theatres, said the group believed that now was a good time to reopen the Beacon because the restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts are beginning to subside.

Restrictions that limited indoor venues like movie theaters to 25 percent capacity in Massachusetts expired Monday, with temporary capacity limits rising to 40 percent. No more than 50 people are allowed inside a movie theater, according to Mass.gov.

“I really wanted to make sure that things were relaxed to the point where there weren’t any travel restrictions so that you could go out and have dinner in a restaurant,” Jacobson said. “We needed to make sure that at least the pandemic was headed in the right direction and the case counts were dropping to the point where we felt comfortable.”

Phoenix Theatres already has opened the cinema complexes it owns in Iowa and Michigan. The cinema complex it owns in Iowa has been open since the last week in August. The company’s Michigan theaters opened in October, then closed after the surge of cases after Thanksgiving, before reopening again on Christmas Day, Jacobson said. The concessions at Phoenix’s Michigan theaters didn’t reopen until this month.

“We know what to expect at this point,” Jacobson said. “That really was the driving force.

“The worst thing that could have happened is if we opened and then we were forced to close,” Jacobson said. “That would be a catastrophe, particularly at the Beacon, and I don’t want to do that. ... We have a lot of things that are factors that are way beyond our control, so, I just wanted to make sure that we were all [set].”

Berkshire County has four other cinema complexes, but only the Movieplex 8 in North Adams is open, according to their websites.

Images Cinema in Williamstown and the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington haven’t opened since the pandemic hit. Regal Cinemas in the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough reopened Aug. 27, but closed Oct. 9, along with all Regal complexes across the country.

Phoenix’s management group has spent the past 10 months working on developing a comprehensive plan to carefully reopen its cinema complexes, with the help of the National Association of Theatre Owners, Daniel Z. Uslan, an epidemiologist from UCLA, and the most current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, according to Jacobson.

Guests will be required to wear face masks when moving about the theater. Social distancing guidelines will be in effect in all the Beacon’s common areas.

To take the challenge away from implementing social distancing, Phoenix Theatres had a new reserved seating program installed in the company’s computer system that allows guests to select their seats in advance, either on its website or newly developed mobile app. The computer automatically will remove two seats between each pair sold, creating a checkerboard-style pattern. This will provide 6 feet of separation between guests to safely social distance while watching a film.

Employees will be required to wear face masks and other protective equipment.

“Prior to reopening, we will be traveling to our theater in Massachusetts, with a small, specialized training group to individually work with every employee,” said Sheena Hohman, the group’s director of employee training and development. “This will ensure a complete understanding of the importance of following the newly established guidelines for operations. By providing our employees with the tools and training necessary, we can establish a safe moviegoing environment for our employees and guests.

The other safety precautions at the Beacon will include:

• Streamlined transactions at the ticketing and concession stand to further minimize touch points.

• The use of a food-grade disinfectant spray on all seats that removes 99.99 percent of all viruses on surfaces within 30 seconds. This same spray also will be used on high touch points throughout the building, including the restrooms and concession areas.

• Hand sanitizer stations will be provided for customer use throughout the theater.

“In order to help easily demonstrate these new policies, we developed a video to help illustrate what you can expect to see during your next trip to the movies,” said Tearis Reid, vice president of operations. “The cinema has always been a way for people to escape reality for a few hours. It is our job now more than ever to provide this experience to our guests while keeping them safe.”

To view Phoenix Theatres’ reopening video plan and a complete listing of safety protocols, visit phoenixmovies.net/covid.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.