Movie theaters on Long Island were allowed to open their doors this week for the first time since March. Newsday's Steve Langford has the story. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.; Barry Sloan; Morgan Campbell

Christopher Hoffman of Lynbrook had enough of Netflix.

So the 51-year-old was the first ticketed theatergoer to show up Friday morning to that village’s Regal Cinemas reopening following a state-ordered closure beginning in March of all theaters to halt the coronavirus pandemic.

"I’ve been waiting for seven months to be back at this theater," said Hoffman, before purchasing a small popcorn and soda and joining the 11 a.m. screening of Christopher Nolan’s thriller "Tenet." He added that he missed the "communal experience" of seeing a movie with a crowd. "I’m tired of Netflix, tired of everything on there," he said. "I’m really excited to see the big blockbusters on screen."

It's showtime for Long Island’s indoor movie theaters. At least 20 theaters — multiplexes and mom-and-pop venues alike — are screening a mix of new and recent releases, classic movies and old favorites. Among the titles moviegoers are likely to see are the horror film "The Empty Man," scheduled for release Friday; the Liam Neeson crime drama "Honest Thief" and the Robert De Niro comedy "The War With Grandpa," which were released earlier this month.

On Friday morning, the aroma of freshly popped popcorn filled the lobby of Deer Park's Regal Cinemas as theatergoers returned to a venue with mandatory masking, a cashless concession stand, shuttered video games, and signs on floors and walls urging social distance.

Marcy Sandoval of Babylon Village said she’s been waiting for this day since March.

"I’m really excited," said Sandoval, a server at a Commack restaurant. "Last night was like Christmas Eve. I have been watching and waiting for a long time."

Sandoval said she was comfortable with the new COVID-19 precautions.

"I’ll wear my mask. I’ll socially distance," said Sandoval, who bought a ticket to see rom-com "The Broken Hearts Gallery." "I brought my own hand sanitizer and my own wipes. I feel that they are doing everything they should be doing."

Matty Newcombe of Deer Park, who had a ticket for "Unhinged," the new Russell Crowe thriller, said he feels the theater experience is safe.

"I am not concerned," said Newcombe, a retired defense contractor. "I miss getting out in public."

The reopening comes after cinemas across New York State closed their doors in mid-March, then watched as restaurants, bowling alleys and fitness centers were gradually allowed to reopen under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s phased rollout plan. In August, the New York chapter of the National Association of Theater Owners held a news conference at the Malverne Cinema and Art Center to call on Cuomo to let cinemas return to operation. But it was only last Saturday that Cuomo finally announced Oct. 23 as the date cinemas could once again open for business.

Regal Lynbrook & RPX in Lynbrook open for the first...

Regal Lynbrook & RPX in Lynbrook open for the first time in seven months Friday Oct. 23, 2020.  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Cuomo’s reopening plan applies only to counties outside of New York City with COVID-19 positivity rates below 2% on a 14-day average and do not have any cluster zones.

At the Regal Lynbrook, tickets and concessions alike can be purchased in advance. Concession staff have been stationed at opposite ends of the stand, to ensure social distancing, and staff use scanners to check tickets. Spare masks are available for theatergoers who don’t have one; the theater has a zero-tolerance mask mandate except when eating or drinking.

Screening times are spaced longer apart — 15 minutes more than normal — so auditoriums can be cleaned with disinfectant "foggers," and to reduce the time patrons spend waiting in line. Drinking fountains have been turned off, and the theater’s bar — which once offered a selection of beers on tap — has been closed.

Regal Lynbrook & RPX in Lynbrook open for the first...

Regal Lynbrook & RPX in Lynbrook open for the first time in seven months Friday Oct. 23, 2020.  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

At that theater, 100 advance tickets had been sold for the day, according to company spokesman Richard Grover.

Among the early arrivals was Jeffrey Meena, a retired medical supply salesperson from Floral Park, who showed up to see "Unhinged" (Crowe is one of his favorite actors). Meena said he also plans to see "Tenet" and "Honest Thief."

"It’s nice to have a venue to enjoy ourselves and forget about the pandemic for a while," said Meena, 67. "Now that the weather’s getting cooler and the days are getting shorter, I think the movies have come back at the right time."

Hoffman, the "Tenet" theatergoer, said he wasn’t concerned about the health risks of sharing an auditorium with others.

"I’m sure they’ve taken all the precautions," he said of the theater. "I have no fears about that."

The limited reopening comes at a perilous moment for the beleaguered film industry. The all-important markets of New York City and Los Angeles remain closed, and Hollywood studios have pulled nearly all of their biggest films from this year’s release calendar, leaving cinemas with few movies to play. AMC, the nation's biggest theater chain, recently announced it might run out of cash by the end of this year. Earlier this month, news that the James Bond thriller "No Time To Die" would be pushed back to 2021 was quickly followed by Cineworld’s announcement that it would close all 536 of its Regal venues in the United States for the rest of the year. Regal is the nation’s second-largest theater chain. Cineworld reversed its decision, however, after Cuomo’s announcement.

Samuel Ashkenazy from Bay Shore at the grand re-opening of...

Samuel Ashkenazy from Bay Shore at the grand re-opening of Regal Cinemas in Deer Park on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Credit: Morgan Campbell/Morgan Campbell

  • Capacity limited to 25% of ordinary occupancy
  • No more than 50 people per screen
  • Assigned seating and social distancing between parties
  • Mandatory masking at all times except when seated and eating or drinking
  • Theaters may open in counties with COVID-19 infection rates of less than 2 percent on a 14-day average and do not have any cluster zones


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