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Diehard movie fans return to theaters. Popcorn was flowing, but it wasn’t quite the same

At the Cinemark theater in Downey, a line divider guided people through the door, to the line, out to the food area and finally into the theater hall, preventing people from roaming or heading to the arcade area as one might have pre-pandemic.

On Monday afternoon, about a dozen people, including children, were standing six feet apart as they ordered popcorn, hot dogs and sodas, all stacked on trays. Only one register was open at check-in and a couple more in the food area.

Except for murmuring and the hum of the popcorn machines, it was quiet. The soda machines and water fountains were cordoned off.

Restaurants, movie theaters, gyms reopen in L.A. County today

No condiments or napkins were out, and the self-serve-butter stations were empty.

A handful of employees wandered around the theater common area, monitoring the scene and wiping down surfaces such as door handles and sanitizing stations. No benches were available to sit on in the hall.

Signs throughout the theater asked patrons to sit away from others in the theater and informed them that their seats were thoroughly sanitized beforehand.

Los Angeles County has unlocked a significant portion of its battered business sector, allowing the return of in-restaurant dining and the resumption of indoor activities at gyms, movie theaters and other venues.

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Counties in the red tier of the state’s four-phase, color-coded reopening plan are permitted to resume indoor dining at restaurants and movie theater showings at 25% capacity, welcome back students in person in grades seven through 12, reopen indoor gyms and dance and yoga studios at 10% capacity, and expand capacity restrictions at nonessential stores and libraries.

Museums, zoos and aquariums also can reopen indoor operations, at 25% capacity.

A man who didn’t want to be identified said he saw reports on TV that some businesses were opening, including theaters. It was his day off, so the Orange County-area resident said he decided to head to the movies. “It’s cool,” he said, nonchalantly. He didn’t feel unsafe or strange being back after so long, he said. “I just needed to get out of the house.”

A woman adjusts her children's masks.
Pamelyn Rocco and daughters Harlow, 5, and Moorea, 7, were at the Cinemark Playa Vista and XD movie theater on Monday to see “Tom and Jerry.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Rushing into the theater before the movie “Boogie” started, Carl Jonson, a Lynwood resident, said, “I’m feeling great. Feeling amazing.” He gave two thumbs-up.

Johnson said he considered himself “very much a moviegoer” and had been eagerly waiting for theaters to reopen. It had always been his “No. 1 thing to do” once restrictions lifted, he said.

“I’m happy to be back at the theater,” Jonson said. “And I got vaccinated today, so feeling even better.”

Cristal Viramontez, a 33-year-old Norwalk resident, said staying at home had taken a toll and she’d been looking for ways to get out. She and her family wanted to see “Boogie” and thought they could stream it online but were surprised to find out Monday that it was showing in Downey.

She and her family sat in the dark theater apart from one another — Viramontez with her son in the lower seats and her husband and daughter in the upper seats. That wasn’t a choice, she said, but a mandate from the theater. It does feel a little strange, she added.

But “I missed it a lot,” she said. “It’s actually really nice. I was tired of staying home and all the politics” surrounding the coronavirus restrictions.

Still, Viramontez said she probably wouldn’t be coming back soon.

“There’s not a lot in stock” in terms of food options, she said.

It just doesn’t feel the same as before.


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