Museums, movie theaters and more navigate reopening plans
Closed since mid-March, movie theaters and museums in Sonoma County now are cautiously preparing to reopen as soon as next week, following state and local health orders that have allowed a gradual reopening of businesses as the coronavirus persists.
Even though Sonoma County’s revised health order cleared museums and movie theaters to reopen last Friday, venue managers say they need to time clean their facilities thoroughly and retrain their staffs.
On July 1, Santa Rosa Cinemas plans to reopen all five of its theaters in Sonoma County, including Raven Film Center in Healdsburg as well as Roxy Stadium 14, Airport Stadium 12, 3rd Street Cinemas and Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa.
Meanwhile, similar preparations for reopening are underway at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, the Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in downtown Sonoma.
“We need to gear up to get our buildings operational and get all of our staff trained according to the guidelines,” said Neil Perlmutter, vice president of Santa Rosa Cinemas.
“We’ll have enhanced cleaning in the lobbies, restrooms and auditoriums. We’ll be sanitizing between showings of the films, including handrails, seating and tray tables,” he explained. “That means we’ll have longer intervals between shows.”
Staff will wear masks and patrons will be asked to wear them, too. Concession items will be limited to popcorn, drinks and packaged candy.
“We can’t have any self-service, so we’ll have to hand people a napkin and a salt packet with their popcorn,” Perlmutter said.
To maintain social distancing, the movie houses must hold occupancy down to 25% of capacity, with all seating reserved and carefully spaced.
“We can have no more than 100 people per auditorium,” Perlmutter said.
The spacing between seats and extra steps at the concession stands are the adjustments the public will see. But the pandemic has brought challenges behind the scenes, too.
“Film buying has been the interesting part,” Perlmutter said. “It’s been a revolving door, with everything changing.”
Theatrical release of two of the summer’s most anticipated blockbusters has been delayed until late July, with Disney’s live-action version of “Mulan” opening July 24 and “Tenet,” directed by Christopher Nolan, opening July 31.
After 30 years in the movie business, Perlmutter can remember no precedent for the impact the pandemic and sheltering in place has had on theaters.
“This is a new one on me. Nothing can surprise me now,” he said. “But we’ve definitely had lots of interest from our patrons who say they miss going to the movies.”
At the Rialto, proprietor Ky Boyd has not yet committed himself to a definite reopening date just yet.
“We’re taking a cautious, one-day-at-a-time approach,” he said. “We’re looking at the latter half of July. We have to ramp back up our contact with vendors, not just film distributors but everyone we deal with. And we need to spread the word to our audience.”
While the theater remains closed, sneeze guards and Plexiglas shields are being installed. Like Santa Rosa Cinemas, masks and distancing will be the order of the day. Seating will be reserved and attendance will be limited.
For museums, the challenges are even more complex, because unlike moviegoers, museum attendees don’t spend most of their visit sitting in one place.
“We’re going above and beyond the guidelines because we want people to feel safe,” said Linda Keaton, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in downtown Sonoma. “There’s more to that than just requiring visitors to wear face masks and stay six feet apart.”
On July 1, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art plans to open its new exhibit “California Rocks! Photographers Who Made The Scene, 1960-1980,” originally scheduled to open June 20. It will be a different experience for visitors than with pre-pandemic exhibits.
A maximum of 21 visitors at a time will be admitted to the 3700 square-foot exhibition space, allowing about 121 square feet per person, and they’ll be directed to move through the exhibit in one direction only, Keaton explained.
“We’ll have a no-touch check-in process, and we’re taking away all of the audience-interactive activities. Our store will be open only online. We will be cleaning daily,” she said. “And this means we’ll have no events.”
The show features photos from more than 20 different photographers of Janis Joplin, Tom Petty and other rock music icons.
“There are no live concerts right now; some this is a way for people to get a little rock ’n’ roll,” Keaton said.