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Coming attraction: Westminster Movies 9 reopens after nearly 6-month hiatus

Angela Gerting and three members of her family walked into TownMall of Westminster on Friday a few minutes before 5 p.m., and found themselves first in line for the movies.

Gerting said she wasn’t going to waste much time after discovering earlier in the week that Westminster Movies 9, owned by R/C Theatres, was allowed to resume operations in accordance with Gov. Larry Hogan’s moving Maryland into the third and final stage of his plan to relax coronavirus restrictions.

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Landen Horton, 10, paid little mind to the fine print. Gerting’s son was eager to see the main entrance unlocked so he and his family could snag some popcorn, candy, and drinks before settling in for a 5:15 showing of “The New Mutants.”

Manager Lindsay Penwright raised the gates just after 5 p.m., and Westminster Movies 9 was back in business for the first time since the mall closed March 19.

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“We usually go once every two weeks,” said Gerting, flanked by Landen, 12-year-old nephew David Gerting, and grandmother Karen Gerting. “I’m also a nurse at the hospital, so I’ve been very busy with [the pandemic]. ... It’s good to get back to some normalcy.”

With RC Theatres Westminster manager Lindsay Penwright, center, workers Rachel Palmer and lavender Hill ready the concessions at the cinema Friday evening Sept. 4, 2020. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that all businesses — including entertainment venues — could open with some capacity restrictions starting Friday night.
With RC Theatres Westminster manager Lindsay Penwright, center, workers Rachel Palmer and lavender Hill ready the concessions at the cinema Friday evening Sept. 4, 2020. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that all businesses — including entertainment venues — could open with some capacity restrictions starting Friday night. (Dylan Slagle)

The Friday night lineup featured four showings of “Tenet,” three showings of “The New Mutants,” and one each of “Unhinged,” “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” and “Words on Bathroom Walls.”

Scott Cohen, president of R/C Theatres, assured moviegoers of a safe and socially distanced environment when they enter the Westminster 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 is operating at 50% capacity, Cohen said, to follow the state guidance for this reopening phase.

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There isn’t any advance seating for now, but the plan is for anyone who comes in small groups to be placed in the theater as such.

Jonathan Halberstam waited at the end of the main hallway to take tickets and direct people to their proper theaters. The Manchester resident said he was happy to be back at the movies and glad the proper safety measures were taken in getting ready to reopen.

“To make sure patrons are OK and don’t get sick during the movie experience,” Halberstam said. “I am nervous how it’s all going to work out right now.”

From left, David Gerting, 12, Landen Horton, 10, Angela Gerting and Karen Gerting, the first movie- goers to arrive Friday, order food from Rachel Palmer at the concessions at RC Theatres Westminster Sept. 4, 2020. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that all businesses — including entertainment venues — could open with some capacity restrictions starting Friday night.
From left, David Gerting, 12, Landen Horton, 10, Angela Gerting and Karen Gerting, the first movie- goers to arrive Friday, order food from Rachel Palmer at the concessions at RC Theatres Westminster Sept. 4, 2020. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that all businesses — including entertainment venues — could open with some capacity restrictions starting Friday night. (Dylan Slagle)

Halberstam said he’s eager to see “Tenet” over the Labor Day weekend. While Halberstam was directing customers to their movies, Penwright was filling popcorn tubs and soda cups behind the concession area.

She took over as manager in 2018 when R/C Theatres assumed ownership of the TownMall facility from Regal Cinemas. The switch brought revamped theaters, equipped with full electric recliners, and the ability to pick your own seat at the box office. That will return in the future, and for now Penwright said she’s just glad to be back.

There were some “false starts” on the first day, she said, but things seemed to be running smoothly as patrons made their way back to the movies for the first time in nearly six moths.

“We were eager for [a July reopening] and that didn’t quite pan out,” she said. “But we’re here, and we’re hoping that we keep chugging along.”

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