AUGUSTA, Ga. – If you’re growing weary of watching movies on your tiny screens at home, there are a few movie theaters eager to welcome you back. Although most franchise and private movie theaters closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some have reopened with modified operations.
Riverwatch Cinemas and Evans Cinemas resumed regular movie screenings in August, but with some changes. Both theaters are only open on Tuesdays and on weekends (Friday to Sunday). Masks have been mandated for customers as well as employees and cleaning protocols have been increased, according to Georgia Theatre Company’s website. Also, when reserving a seat, a guest is unable to reserve one close to another party in order to maintain social distancing, but can purchase multiple seats for their own group.
Both theaters also offer private screenings where individual theaters can be reserved for limited-size groups at a base price. As of Monday, the price for classic movies is $100 and $200 to see a new release.
In addition, Flashback Cinemas, a classic-movie series that has been featured at Evans Cinemas for years, has expanded the number of featured theaters and screening days. Both Riverwatch and Evans now feature the series. For showtimes, check out the theaters’ websites or go to flashbackcinema.net.
Masters Cinemas on Washington Road will not reopen, Georgia Theatre Company officials confirmed on Feb. 19. As Augusta’s bargain theater, Masters Cinemas fed off new movie releases as they finished their runs at Riverwatch and Evans. GTC chief operating officer Jeff Mobley cited the severely reduced number of new movie releases as a key factor in closing the location.
Regal reopened its theaters last summer, including Regal Augusta Exchange and Regal Aiken Mall, but the company had to close all theaters again on Oct. 9 due to the pandemic. The company tweeted Jan. 5 that it hopes to reopen theaters in March, assuming it will be allowed in New York City and Los Angeles. New York and California hold far more venues than many of the other 47 states where Regal theaters are located.
The Monetta Drive-In Theatre, also known as “The Big Mo,” resumed its 2020 shows in June and announced via Facebook that it was closed for the season on Dec. 21. Owner and operator Richard Boaz said via Facebook Messenger early last week that a reopening date is unknown and will depend on the pandemic’s progress.
“We love it … but the health and safety of our customers and staff is paramount,” he wrote.
The drive-in, located in Monetta, S.C., will celebrate its 70th birthday on April 26.
What’s allowed for movie theaters?
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in his Feb. 15 executive order that, in addition to the standard safety measures for all non-critical infrastructures, indoor cinemas should implement the following measures:
- Each party must be seated at least six feet apart.
- At least one usher must be used in each theater room before and at some point during each showing to ensure proper social distancing is enforced.
- Seats, armrests, handrails, doors, doorknobs and door handles in each theater must be thoroughly sanitized regularly.
- Tape may be applied to floors at ticket counters and concession stands to enforce proper social distancing for patrons waiting in line.
- Checking restrooms regularly, cleaning and sanitizing based on frequency of use, and always ensuring adequate supply of soap and paper towels.
- Food service areas must adhere to the same guidelines under the “Restaurants & Dining Services” section of the executive order. Some of those guidelines include, for workers, mask mandates, staggered shifts and staggered workstations where possible.
Besides a guideline on keeping playgrounds clean that was removed from this section, this guidance has remained consistent since June 2020.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has not specifically addressed theaters in his executive orders since he modified emergency measures on Nov. 25. In that order, indoor and outdoor theaters are classified as gathering sites and must adhere to the following measures:
- Capacity must be limited to 50%.
- All patrons and workers must wear face coverings.
- The sale or consumption of alcohol is prohibited between 11 p.m. and 10 a.m. the next day.
- Reasonable steps shall be taken to maintain a safe and healthy environment.