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Movie theaters press New York State for blessing to reopen

Shuttered for five months, struggling cinemas are among the businesses still shut down by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's emergency orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

EAST AURORA, N.Y. — "This is ridiculous," groused New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan, regarding the continued shutdown of movie theaters throughout the state by Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid coronavirus fears.

Gallivan stood with theater owners outside the historic Aurora Theatre to note that despite the state's dwindling COVID-19 numbers, and it permitting restaurants, malls, bowling alleys and gyms to operate under guidelines presumed to keep their customers safe, cinemas remain dark, leaving 10,000 New Yorkers without their jobs.

"There's no question theaters can also re-open safely," Gallivan said. "And if the governor doesn't do it, then I'm calling on the legislative leaders to call us together in Albany to take action to make sure this happens."

In a recent interview, Cuomo indicated that the state is working on guidelines which may be forthcoming.

However, after five months of closure, theater owners say those guidelines need to come sooner than later, lest they become the latest on a growing list of businesses in New York State which were forced to close during the pandemic and which, unable to recover, will never open again.

'Follow the data, follow the facts'

Cuomo has repeatedly stated that his decisions are driven by "data and facts."

However, Joe Masher, President of the National Association of Theater Owners of New York State, suggests there may be one important fact that Cuomo has either missed or ignored.

"In the 42 states where movie theaters have been allowed to reopen, there has not been one known case of COVID-19 transmission attributed to a movie-going experience or a movie theater. Not one," Masher said. "This state needs to get our guidelines published and distributed to us, and let us open as soon as possible."

Here's the plan

With no guidelines from the state thus far, theater operators have already developed re-opening plans based on what has already worked successfully in other states.

Those plans include requiring patrons to wear masks as they enter and exit theaters, and operating at 50 percent capacity which allow for required social distancing between customers once they are seated.

In addition they are proposing staggering showtimes, thoroughly cleaning theaters and seats between shows, and improving their circulation systems to meet the  same criteria that Cuomo established for malls when he permitted them to re-open.

The doctor says it's safe 

 I'm well aware of everything we've seen and learned over these last few months," said Scott Treutlein, who with his wife owns two theaters in Warsaw and Hornell.

Treutlien might know that better than most of his colleagues in the movie business, because the theaters he owns are a side gig to his full time job as a practicing physician.

"And I wouldn't stand here today trying to get these theaters reopened if I didn't truly believe 100 percent that it was safe," Dr. Treutlein said.

A community's heartbeat is hanging on

Inside the Aurora, the posters for coming attractions still remain from when they showed their last film in March.

One poster is for the movie "No Time to Die."

After months of not being able to operate, it's owner Lynn Kinsella has to wonder how much life the  95 year theater might have left if things don't change soon.

"With our popcorn shop open, we are just basically just plopping along and if we continue at this we can keep it for a while but ... it's not gonna last forever," she said.

Moreover, local officials say there's a lot more at stake for the area's economy than just the theater, noting that many movie goers have historically patronized nearby shops and restaurants when they came to East Aurora to see a film.

 "This is the heartbeat of our village," Aurora Town Supervisor James Bach said.

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