Clark County is moving closer to Phase 3 of Washington’s Safe Start reopening plan, and area movie theaters are banking on the jump happening sooner rather than later. Local, independent theaters and larger corporate chains have in recent weeks all announced plans to reopen by mid-July, although multiplex chain AMC announced Monday that it would push its planned date back by two weeks to July 30.
The theater experience will look different when the doors open back up. Phase 3 allows theaters to restart operations but limits auditoriums to 50 percent of their usual capacity. And on Friday, masks became legally required for everyone in public spaces statewide.
Nearly all of Clark County’s theaters have announced additional sanitizing and social-distancing measures, most of which share common features.
In general, moviegoers can expect to find that ticket sales systems have moved online, and concession menus have been reduced in order to speed up lobby lines. Cash transactions, self-serve stations, refills and other practices that tend to result in frequent physical contact will be discouraged or prohibited.
Ticketing software will be programmed to maintain empty seats between parties, and some theaters will close off every other row to maintain distancing. Auditoriums will be cleaned between each show, typically through the use of sanitizing fogger treatments.
In keeping with Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask order, theaters have put rules in place requiring visitors to wear them at all times, except when eating or drinking while seated in an auditorium (Inslee’s mask order also allows people to remove their masks while eating.)
Several of the summer’s planned tentpole movies have been pushed back due to COVID-19, but there are still some big releases on the way, including Disney’s live-action “Mulan” remake and the Christopher Nolan-directed “Tenet.” Both films have seen multiple delays, most recently moving their planned release dates from July to August.
The Liberty Theatre in Camas looks to be first out of the gate for reopening. According to posts on the theater’s Facebook page, it is tentatively scheduled to reopen Wednesday, but only if Clark County has received permission to move to Phase 3 by then.
Battle Ground Cinema is targeting a mid-July reopening, aiming to align with other big multiplexes. An exact date has not yet been chosen. Owner Elie Kassab said the theater is restocked and ready to go, and just waiting to hear about the status of Phase 3.
In a message Friday, staff at the Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver stated they were planning on a July 3 reopening — although they were waiting for more definitive information after the weekend.
All three local theaters have been keeping busy during the COVID-19 closure by offering curbside pickup service for popcorn and other snacks. The Liberty and Kiggins have also been doing “virtual” movie programs.
Multiplex chain Regal has announced that it plans to resume operations at its theaters July 10, with auditoriums limited to 50 percent capacity wherever required by local ordinances.
Regal operates four locations in Clark County: Regal City Center in downtown Vancouver, Regal Cinema 99 in Hazel Dell, Regal Vancouver Plaza in central Vancouver and Regal Cascade IMAX in east Vancouver.
AMC had previously committed to a July 15 reopening date for about 450 of the company’s 600 locations. A June 18 press release stated that the company expected to have “almost all” of its roughly 600 U.S. locations operating for the debut of “Mulan,” which at the time was scheduled for July 24, although it was recently delayed to Aug. 21.
AMC announced Monday that it had moved its planned reopening date back to July 30. A press release from AMC stated that the delay was intended to align the reopening with the new release dates for “Mulan” and “Tenet.” The company said it expected its full complement of theaters to open by early August unless there are further complications from the coronavirus outbreak.
AMC’s restrictions will go further than the Phase 3 requirements, limiting auditoriums to 30 percent capacity.
AMC operates two multiplexes in Clark County: AMC Vancouver Mall 23 and AMC CLASSIC Mill Plain 8 in east Vancouver. It’s unknown whether those locations are included in the first wave. No one answered the phone at either theater.