The second phase of Washington’s reopening plan isn’t just a lucky break for restaurants; it also opens the doors for a return of limited indoor activity at a variety of entertainment businesses including theaters, bowling alleys, museums and casinos.
Clark County is home to businesses in each of those categories, and they’ve all been shuttered since mid-November when Gov. Jay Inslee banned most nonretail indoor business activities due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. Phase 1 maintained the ban, but Phase 2 eases it back by allowing indoor activity at up to 25 percent of each business’s regular building capacity.
Many local entertainment businesses indicated this week that they’re preparing to jump straight back into action now that Phase 2 has arrived, although some are taking a more cautious wait-and-see approach.
Clark County’s two AMC multiplexes at Vancouver Mall and off of Mill Plain Boulevard are both scheduled to reopen Friday, according to their pages on the company’s website. The Liberty Theatre in Camas also announced on social media that it would be coming back Friday.
Battle Ground Cinema operator Prestige Theatres posted a message saying that the multiplex would remain closed for the time being, mostly due to a lack of big upcoming movie releases. The company also said it wanted to monitor the progress of both the pandemic and vaccination efforts to be more certain that the county won’t backslide into Phase 1.
“The hardest thing on a small business so devastated by these closures would be to reopen only to have to close down again,” the company wrote. “We did it in October and do not want to repeat that scenario.”
Prestige media specialist Marina Gephart wrote in an email that the company is expecting more favorable conditions in April or May, citing the currently planned release dates of Disney’s “Black Widow” and “Cruella” and Universal’s “Fast & Furious 9.”
There’s no word yet on what the local Regal theaters will do. The chain has been closed nationally since October, and the company released a statement in January indicating that it hoped to reopen in March, but there’s been no other official word and the company did not reply to a request for comment.
The Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver also hasn’t offered any public statements about when it might reopen. Owner Dan Wyatt could not be reached for comment, although a message sent to the theater’s Facebook page received a response stating “we’re working on a hard date right now. Stay tuned.”
Stage theaters don’t appear to be moving quite as fast. Magenta Theater in downtown Vancouver hasn’t made any reopening announcements and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Stephen Pick, executive director of the Journey Theater in Vancouver, said Phase 2 will mark a shift from online shows back toward performances with live audiences, but it will be a gradual transition that starts off with smaller-scale shows.
“It’s easier to produce a music revue or just a stage play versus a large-scale musical,” he said. “The large-scale musicals, you have a lot more time and thousands of dollars invested in it, and if you don’t have a secure place to perform it, it’s just not feasible.”
Journey relies on school auditoriums and other outside venues to stage its performances, he said, so the move back to live audiences depends heavily on the availability of those kinds of stages. The company is currently planning its June performances and deciding whether to try to make the leap back to live audiences at that point, he said.
Bowling, gaming and museums
Two of the county’s bowling alleys have already reopened; Allen’s Crosley Lanes in Vancouver reopened Tuesday, according to its website, and Husted’s Hazel Dell Lanes reopened Wednesday following a two-day delay to wait for last weekend’s winter weather to subside.
General manager Angie Godkin said reopening was an easy decision. The bowling alley would need to be allowed to reach at least 50 percent capacity to achieve longer-term stability, she said, but an opportunity for 25 percent was still worth taking.
“If we can get 25 percent in here, it’s better than having the doors closed, for sure, with zero dollars coming in,” she said.
The building can hold 70 people at 25 percent capacity, she said, which is enough to use all 24 lanes with a two-person limit. League events can also resume, although they have to be scaled down to 48 bowlers and no audience. For comparison, a typical evening with a league event would include 120 bowlers plus dozens of spectators, she said.
Nontribal cardrooms and casinos also fall under the Phase 2 indoor venue umbrella, and The Last Frontier Casino in La Center announced Wednesday that it is tentatively planning to reopen Feb. 25. The nearby Palace Casino has not yet made an announcement, and could not be reached for comment.
The move to Phase 2 will have little impact on ilani because the Cowlitz Tribe enjoys sovereign rights and can make its own operating decisions. The casino has remained open through the most recent shutdown, although President and General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose said in a statement that ilani will begin to accommodate business meetings in accordance with the 25 percent capacity guideline.
The Phase 2 indoor activity rules apply to museums, as well, but Clark County Historical Museum programs and marketing manager April Buzby said the institution has converted many of its services to virtual configurations and will need to take a slow approach to reopening.
The nonprofit relies heavily on volunteer staff, many of whom are older and at higher risk of COVID-19, so they’ll need to be vaccinated before they can return. There are also concerns about backsliding — the museum reopened in October last year only to be shut down again one month later, which was “really rough for us,” she said.
“I probably don’t see us opening to the general public until at least spring, at the earliest, so that we have time to staff up,” she added.