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North Country officials call for state guidance on reopening cinemas

Cumberland 12 Cinemas owner and developer Peter Edelmann, front — flanked by, from left, town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman, state Assemblyman Billy Jones and North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas — speaks at a press conference Monday during which he and the officials advocate for New York state to issue movie theaters guidance for reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Provided photo — Cara Chapman, Press-Republican)

PLATTSBURGH — Local officials called for action and focus from the state on developing guidance for movie theaters to reopen Monday.

At a press conference held by Assemblyman D. Billy Jones in the Cumberland 12 Cinemas lobby, North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said that his organization’s goal has been to leave no business behind.

But a few sectors have been, he noted, even this late in New York State’s reopening process.

“Movie theaters in particular … arcades and game rooms and small amusement centers are also among those last remaining few categories that continue to be left behind in terms of even being able to know if they’ll be allowed to reopen, never mind being reopened under difficult circumstances or thresholds and restrictions.”

New York is one of a handful of states that has not reopened indoor movie theaters, according to information on the National Association of Theatre Owners’ website.

Safe manner

In calling for the state, its Department of Health and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue guidance for theaters, Jones pointed to how cooling temperatures will soon lead people to look for indoor entertainment.

“We can do this in a safe manner. We have the technology to do the distancing, the spatial distancing that we need. We have the expertise on how to do this safely.”

Jones brought up the region’s continuously low infection rates, and how other businesses whose reopenings were previously delayed, such as malls and bowling alleys, have safely reopened.

“Let’s give these remaining businesses at least the guidelines on how to open,” he said. “Give them a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

Preparations under way

Cumberland 12 Cinemas owner and developer Peter Edelmann said he calls Douglas once a month to ask what New York is doing with regard to theaters.

Though the preferred news has yet to come down, it is great to have the community’s support, he continued, pointing to spring popcorn drives that brought in thousands of dollars for the Plattsburgh Interfaith Food Shelf.

Edelmann also owns Essex Cinemas in Vermont, which has reopened, and said Cumberland 12 has been preparing to do so as well.

Procedures in place at Essex Cinemas include blocking off every other row of seating, putting in higher-quality filters in air conditioning units, new service and cleaning protocols, and installation of plexi-glass for all surface counters.

Additionally, new point-of-sale systems number the theater seats, allowing moviegoers to group together and/or space out from each other.

Cumberland 12 is prepared to implement that system once New York state stipulates occupancy levels, Edelmann said. Douglas said the state’s guidance will likely look very similar to Vermont’s.

“We’re doing all that we can and we’re very cognizant and aware that we’ve got to do a good job if we’re going to be able to, not just open, but to stay open,” Edelmann said.

“The worst thing we can do is to open up and do a bad job and have to re-close again.”

Edelmann said Leah Cathers would be stepping into the role of manager as the business looks to put together a team and reopen.

Dinner and a movie

Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman said a plan was needed, and could be recalibrated if necessary.

He added that Cumberland 12’s popcorn drives showed how, even when the doors were closed, the business found a way to give back to the community.

“We have to do the same thing. We have to find a way to energize people.”

When it comes to local movie theaters, Cashman thinks of “dinner and a movie” and believes that coupling the two will help businesses in other sectors as well.

“My hope is that we can get this place back open, that people can come here for some good, safe, healthy entertainment and then go out and support our local restaurants.”

Not about Hollywood

Douglas said it was important to recognize that this call for guidance was not about Hollywood and studio magnates.

“This is about Plattsburgh; it’s about Tupper Lake, Indian Lake, AuSable Forks, communities across the North Country and the central role that, particularly in those small Adirondack communities, their local movie theater plays.”

Smaller family businesses are in more danger than anybody, Douglas continued.

“If we can get this done and get some guidelines out, we also have a shot at hopefully saving and having those small theaters.”

He acknowledged that patience with the reopening process was necessary, but said it was surely time for the state to be able to roll out movie theater guidelines.

“We call for whatever intensive effort is needed by the state of New York to finalize what they have been saying for weeks and months that they’re working on.”

Region by region

Douglas voiced support for the state’s original regional reopening plan, and said the process for measuring each region and rewarding those who did well with subsequent phases sputtered out after Phase 4.

“If this finalization of guidelines is perhaps being overwhelmed by concerns about the City of New York — which is now way behind us on restaurant reopenings and other things — then let’s look at reopening maybe one region first, and let it be the North Country.

“Let’s start it region by region if that’s the way the state would feel more comfortable and would be totally consistent with how they began this whole process in the beginning.”

Federal compromise

Douglas additionally called for a compromise at the federal level that would allow for more assistance in the form of a second round of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

Edelmann concurred saying that, regardless of whether Cumberland 12 is open, utilities, six-figure property taxes and mortgages still need to be paid.

“If you’re not open, where does the money come from? There’s multiplier effects in all this and we do also beseech the federal government to realize … we can’t continue to keep operations and buildings open or about to open if we don’t get some assistance.”

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