Carroll countians will be able to add going to the movies to their entertainment list later today, with R/C Theatres preparing for its first customers at TownMall of Westminster in more than five months.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that Maryland is moving into the third and final stage of his plan to relax restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. That means all businesses, including entertainment venues, will be allowed to reopen beginning Friday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m.
Carroll County’s commissioners agreed in their weekly meeting Thursday to follow the governor’s lead, as they have with previous reopening steps, the mall’s movie theater will be back in business.
Scott Cohen, president of R/C Theatres, said moviegoers will get a safe and socially distanced experience when they enter the mall’s Westminster Movies 9 facility. Cohen said his theater company is one of hundreds following protocols set by CinemaSafe, which developed guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic that are supported by epidemiologists to promote a safe return to the movies.
Face coverings are required for employees and patrons, who may remove them when partaking in refreshments. Appropriate physical distancing will be maintained in each theater. Westminster Movies 9 will operate at 50% capacity, Cohen said, to follow the state guidance for this reopening phase.
There won’t be any advance seating for now, he said, but the plan is for anyone who comes in small groups be placed in the theater as such. The rows are 6 feet apart, he noted.
“We’re still studying it on how to do it,” Cohen said. “We are working on a system. It may take time ... this pandemic has made me rethink many things many times. My first goal was getting theaters open, getting them safe and getting them sanitized. And we have that. I was ready for that in June.
“Who knew it would take this long? I was hoping to be open in July, not in September.”
TownMall of Westminster reopened June 19 after being closed for three months at he start of the pandemic. Some of its businesses didn’t come back, while others did so under new safety measures.
Robyn Clark, TownMall general manager, said at the time the mall had several hand sanitizing stations in place for shoppers, and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were to be followed.
The same practices are being applied at Westminster Movies 9.
Hogan’s move to Stage Three of his reopening plan also means places of religious worship may increase capacity from 50% to 75%. Most other businesses, including restaurants, had previously been allowed to reopen.
R/C Theaters, based in Reisterstown, took over as TownMall movie owners in May 2018. The switch from Regal Cinemas brought revamped theaters, with full electric recliners, and the ability to pick your own seat at the box office.
R/C operated the twin theater in Eldersburg’s Carrolltowne Mall before closing it to build a multiplex in the parking lot. The company also operated the former Carroll Theater in downtown Westminster, now home to the Carroll Arts Center, until the mall theater opened in the early 1980s.
Westminster Movies 9 times will be spaced out, Cohen said, to better accommodate social distancing guidelines at TownMall. The facility will have sanitizing stations, with extra staff on hand to ensure the entire facility is clean and up to standards.
Cohen said he hopes reopening theaters attracts enough people to keep Hollywood happy and its movies on schedule. Many films adjusted their release date schedules during the pandemic, with some delaying until 2021 and others using on-demand formats.
Board of County Commissioners President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said in a text message Wednesday that he expects to have TownMall’s movie theater open for business Friday evening.
“Throughout this pandemic we have always followed the path set forth by the Governor and his team,” Wantz said. “The numbers speak for themselves and our Carroll citizens have agreed and gotten us to this point.”