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With concessions, movie theaters return to Orange County

Movie fans buy their tickets minutes after Cinemark Century Cinema opened in Huntington Beach on Friday.
Movie fans buy their tickets minutes after Cinemark Century Cinema opened in Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Denise Zak smiled as she walked into the Cinemark Century movie theater in Huntington Beach on Friday afternoon.

Zak lives in an apartment building near Bella Terra mall, and she had been waiting for the theater to reopen. On Friday, she had a ticket to see “Unhinged,” the new Russell Crowe movie. Before the coronavirus pandemic, she said she went to the theater at least once a week.

“This is my happy place, or one of them,” said Zak, who works as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines. “When I get off work, this is my escape.”

For the first time since March, the happy place is once again open for business.

Texas-based Cinemark started showing movies there again Friday afternoon, to a maximum of 25% of the theater’s capacity. That’s in line with the state reopening guidelines, as Orange County moved from the purple tier to the less-restrictive red tier on Tuesday.

Regal has reopened 13 theaters in Orange County, including the Big Newport and Edwards Metro Pointe in Costa Mesa at South Coast Plaza. AMC also announced that it reopened locations in Anaheim, Orange and Tustin on Friday, with the Fullerton theater following on Saturday.

Each theater chain has announced enhanced safety protocols. At each chain, face masks are mandatory for employees and patrons. They may be removed in the theater only for eating or drinking.

“We are disinfecting every auditorium every morning, and again before every showtime,” Cinemark vice president of investor relations and public relations Chanda Brashears said. “We’re also sanitizing all hard surfaces every 30 minutes. To ensure the highest level of these clean and safety standards are adhered to, we have assigned a Chief Clean and Safety Monitor for each theater shift.”

Theaters have instituted an automatic buffering system to promote social distancing in each location. Some seats will be unavailable to purchase. What is still available are concessions like popcorn and soft drinks.

Movie fan Denise Zak of Huntington Beach was glad the Cinemark Century Cinema opened again in Huntington Beach on Friday.
Movie fan Denise Zak of Huntington Beach was glad the Cinemark Century Cinema opened again on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Brashears said Cinemark is also offering private watch parties for up to 20 people.

Costa Mesa resident Joe Wakely, 20, said he feels safe back at the theater. He and girlfriend Jessica Garcia went to a showing of “The New Mutants” at the Bella Terra location on Friday. On Saturday, the plan was to hit up the Big Newport theater to see the new film directed by Christopher Nolan, “Tenet.”

“We’re going on a whole movie spree right now,” Wakely said. “For me, I love it.”

It makes sense that Wakely, a film major at Orange Coast College, is happy to be back in theaters. He hopes to transfer to the Chapman University Dodge College of Film, with the ultimate goal of becoming a cinematographer.

Cinemark Century Cinema employees work to keep the just-reopened theater sanitized, in Huntington Beach on Friday.
Cinemark Century Cinema employees work to keep the just-reopened theater sanitized, in Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“Opening movie theaters, it gets people out,” Wakely said. “I feel like if it’s done right, it’s safe. I’d say it’s something that we need again this year, as things start slowly getting back [to normal].

“[Safety] is the biggest question you’re going to have to think about. I know movie theaters are doing things differently, like Regal’s doing stuff different, AMC’s doing stuff different. It really depends on how they handle it. If they handle it good, then yeah, it’s going to be good, but if it’s poorly handled then that could be a problem.”

Los Angeles County remains in the purple tier for reopening, meaning movie theaters are closed. Eduardo Bernabe and Yainel Casillas said they traveled all the way from Santa Clarita to Huntington Beach on Friday to watch “The New Mutants.”

“We really missed movie theaters, especially with the air being so bad outside,” Casillas said.

Moviegoers grab snacks at the just reopened Cinemark Century Cinema.
Moviegoers grab snacks at the just reopened Cinemark Century Cinema.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

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