More movie screens will light up on Long Island when the PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station reopens its doors on Friday.
"We’re going to be up and running and ready to go," Phil Solomon, the venue’s owner, said Thursday morning. "I just hope that people give it a try."
The local landmark opens one week after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set Oct. 23 as the date cinemas in certain counties outside New York City could return to operation. That’s more than seven months of sitting dark while the pandemic shut down the economy. In the meantime, Hollywood’s major movie studios bumped most of their big releases into next year, leaving theaters like PJ Cinemas with few new movies to show. In fact, Solomon said, he doesn’t have enough to fill all seven of his screens.
"We’re opening six movies, but we couldn’t find a seventh," he said. "We’re keeping one screen empty. If one title does well, we can always add it to the other screen."
Reopening under New York State’s new health guidelines will be both challenging and expensive, according to Solomon. Capacity will be capped at 25% and no more than 50 people per screen. The state-mandated MERV-13 air filters for his venue's HVAC system cost roughly four times as much as standard filters, Solomon said, and may need to be replaced more frequently. A number of LED air purifiers also have been installed. Plexiglas guards surround the box office and the two concession stands. The 10 tables and accompanying chairs that used to dot the theater’s cafe area have all been removed to discourage patrons from congregating.
"Movie theaters are a place of public assembly," Solomon said as he waited for a delivery of carbon dioxide to put the fizz back into the soda fountains. "And right now, we’re not supposed to assemble, that’s the problem."
Among the titles playing this weekend are Christopher Nolan’s "Tenet," the Liam Neeson thriller "The Honest Thief," the horror film "Come Play" and the recently released romantic drama "After We Collided." All showtimes are listed at mypjcinemas.com. Solomon admitted that in scrambling to reopen, he forgot to send the information to Fandango, the movie listing platform. Advance-ticket sales so far? A scant 11.
Still, Solomon sounded upbeat. "There’s a lot of interest. Everybody we meet on the street is expressing their best wishes," he said. "We’ve become an integral part of the community, and we hope that relationship will continue."
Meanwhile, there are other signs of life among Long Island’s movie theaters. Regal, which opened a number of theaters on Long Island last weekend, will reopen its Ronkonkoma location Friday. The Malverne Cinema and Art Center, which also opened last weekend, said it has been inundated with phone calls from customers, many expressing interest in booking private showings. And Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre announced earlier this week that it would reopen in "a few months" following a long-planned renovation that will accommodate the region’s new safety protocols. The Cinema Arts Centre also announced it would hold a virtual Q&A with actor Elliot Gould as a fundraising effort on Nov. 15.