PITTSFIELD — By Memorial Day weekend, Berkshire moviegoers will be able to return to any of the county's five cinema complexes for the first time in over a year.
Regal Cinemas at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough is reopening Friday, the company has announced on social media, while Images Cinema in Williamstown plans to reopen May 29, according to Executive Director Doug Jones. May 29 is the day that most remaining COVID restrictions in Massachusetts will be lifted, Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week.
The Triplex in Great Barrington had previously announced that it planned to reopen on Friday. The North Adams MoviePlex 8 has been open since last August, while the Phoenix Theatres at the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield reopened on Feb. 26.
Jones is looking forward to a return to the familiar.
"You don't miss the sound of popping popcorn until you don't hear it for a year," he said on Thursday.
Like the theaters that are already open, Images, the mall's cinema complex and the Triplex will initially open with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
At Images, masks will continue to be required for all staff and audience members, except when customers are eating and drinking within the theater. Showtimes will be scheduled to allow enough time for enhanced surface cleaning and to avoid crowding in the lobby; air quality will continue to be addressed; hand sanitizers will be available; and protective barriers will remain in place between staff and audience members. All staff members are required to be vaccinated. Images installed a new heating and cooling system during the pandemic.
"We're going to keep masks as a requirement for filmgoers and staff for at least a little while longer," Jones said. "That seemed like an area where it made sense to move a little more slowly."
Images will not offer assigned seating, for now, but tickets for every seat will be available, Jones said. Images has only one theater and Jones said sellout performances are extremely rare.
"We're going to let people in the auditorium social distance themselves," he said. "We usually have more seats than people. ... We're going to go day-to-day and week-to-week and see how everyone feels with the comfort level."
Regal, the country's second-largest movie chain, originally reopened the Berkshire Mall's 10-screen cinema complex in late August, only to close it again Oct. 6 when the company shuttered all its theatres nationwide due to safety concerns. Regal has been reopening its cinema complexes across the country gradually. But so far it has reopened only two other cinema complexes in Massachusetts, one in Boston and one in Springfield, according to its website.
Regal announced in a tweet that it would reopen the Berkshire Mall's cinema complex. A phone call to the Tennessee-based company's media relations line on Thursday was not returned. In the announcement, Regal said the mall's cinema complex would reopen under the guidelines provided by "CinemaSafe," the company's COVID-19 safety program.
Those guidelines include the wearing of masks, required social distancing, reduced seating capacity, air filtration, the presence of hand sanitizers, enhanced cleaning, and mobile ticketing, according to the company's website. Frequent handwashing by employees is encouraged.
Images has been closed for 14 months, which Jones believes is the longest such stretch in the theatre's 105-year history. Jones had recently begun holding private screenings before deciding to fully reopen on May 29.
"We were already putting things into place to reopen right around that time in a somewhat limited fashion under how we knew the regulations a week ago," Jones said. "Then with Gov. Baker's announcement that gave us kind of the elbow room to reopen in a slightly more expansive way.