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Texas says movie theaters can reopen Friday. Not so fast, the theaters say

Alamo Drafthouse
Tim League, Alamo Drafthouse founder and chief executive, in Austin, Texas.
(Annie Ray)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday said that movie theaters would be able to open as soon as this weekend, as the state looks to gradually ease restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But one of the state’s major theater companies, Alamo Drafthouse, had a clear message to patrons: “We will not be opening this weekend.”

The Austin-based chain, which operates about 40 locations in multiple states, said the company needs more time to create new procedures and retrain employees to keep them and guests safe. That means the company won’t be opening anytime soon, despite the governor’s permission for certain businesses to resume as long as they maintain 25% capacity.

“Opening safely is a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which require extensive training,” the company said in a statement provided by a spokesman. “This is something we cannot and will not do casually or quickly.”

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Founded by Tim and Karrie League in 1997, the company is known for going its own way. Alamo was a pioneer in the dine-in theater trend and serves its own craft beer.

But Alamo, which opened a downtown Los Angeles location last year, is far from alone in resisting the urge to reopen swiftly, despite permission from some governors, including Georgia’s Brian Kemp.

The world and nation’s biggest chain, Leawood, Kan.-based AMC Theatres, last week said that it did not plan to open its 1,000 theaters until Hollywood studios start releasing big movies again. That, exhibitors hope, will start with Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” on July 17, followed by Disney’s “Mulan” on July 24. AMC recently raised $500 million in new debt to help it withstand the closures.

“While we expect to open our theatres in the weeks ahead of these new blockbusters, utilizing creative programming of immensely popular previously released films, we would be wise to do so only directly in advance of the release of major new movie titles,” AMC said.

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Plano, Texas-based Cinemark Holdings, one of the nation’s largest chains, recently told investors that it probably wouldn’t reopen until July 1, after hiring back its 17,500 laid-off employees and training them in health and safety protocols.

That didn’t change Monday. The theater industry’s return to normalcy “may span multiple months,” a Cinemark spokeswoman said. The business’s revival will be “driven by staggered theatre openings due to government limits, reduced operating hours, lingering social distancing and a ramp up of consumer comfort with public gatherings.”

In the meantime, Alamo Drafthouse has tried to maintain its customer relations with cinephiles by offering “virtual cinema” screenings of its Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday selections in the form of rentals of certain movies through its website.

“When we do open, we will be providing the safest possible experience for both our staff and our guests, and we can’t wait to see you all again,” Alamo Drafthouse said.


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