Recently opened Aberdeen movie theater faces uncertain future as Maryland cinemas remains closed because of coronavirus

Horizon Cinemas owner Bob Wienholt recently relayed a grim message at the Aberdeen City Council’s podium: If his movie theater in the city stays closed for much longer, it could go bankrupt.

With five theaters in three Maryland counties, Horizon Cinemas opened its newest theater in Aberdeen on March 6. Only 10 days later, it was ordered to shut down in view of the coronavirus pandemic.


Because the theater was only open a short amount of time, the Aberdeen location did not qualify for federal loans, Wienholt said. Other locations were able to secure loans, but Aberdeen’s theater had no track-record. Horizon also has cinemas in Fallston, Nottingham and two in Glen Burnie.

“We have applied for every program there is,” Wienholt said. “How are they going to lend you money based on 10 days of operation?”


The theater did receive a $7,500 grant from Harford County, but that is only enough to float it for a couple of months, excluding rent payments. And in the aftermath of the closures, Wienholt expects business will be sluggish as customers overcome their fears of public gatherings and new releases trickle into theaters.

“We are not in the position yet to file bankruptcy, but if thing goes on much longer, we may have to for that location,” he said.

Despite measures Wienholt’s theaters are taking to adhere to social-distancing and sanitation guidelines, Horizon and other cinemas around the state are prohibited from opening under the executive orders of Gov. Larry Hogan. He said he understands the governor’s concern for residents’ safety, and does not mean to criticize, but believes his theaters in particular are taking more than enough precautions to begin reopening.

Special devices have been installed on all the movie theater’s doors so they can be opened without using hands, the theaters are routinely cleaned and disinfected after shows, and sanitizing stations are available, Wienholt said. Beyond that, showtimes can be staggered so throngs of people do not converge in theater lobbies, and all seating is arranged. When a seat is reserved using an online system, Wienholt said, adjacent seats can be blocked off to comply with social distancing guidelines.

So confident is Wienholt of his theaters’ safety, he invited Hogan to come inspect them. He has sent multiple letters to the governor’s office, which acknowledged receiving them, but Hogan has not taken him up on the tour, he said.

“I offered to have him come to one of our theaters,” he told the Aberdeen City Council at its June 22 meeting. “We have gone above and beyond.”

Wienholt contacted the governor’s office in mid-June, and Deputy Chief of Staff Allison Mayer responded to say the state was “working closely with public health experts and epidemiologists on the state’s gradual, phased reopening strategy,” according to Shareese Churchill, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

“We continue to watch the data closely, and will work with the industry to prepare for a safe reopening as part of the state’s safe, effective, and gradual recovery,” Churchill wrote in an email to the Aegis Thursday. She did not answer specific questions about reopening movie theaters in the state.

According to four health experts’ analysis of activities that risk spreading the virus, reported by the Michigan media company MLive, movie theaters rank below bars, gyms and churches, which have all commenced limited reopenings in Maryland.

Wienholt said he has also reached out to the county executives of Harford, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, where he operates theaters, and they have been in contact with him. As theaters in adjacent states like Delaware re-open, he wants to hear an explanation why Maryland theaters cannot open from the governor’s office.

“I do not understand; somebody needs to just give me a call and tell me why we cannot open,” he said. “They have not given me a reason why we cannot open.”

County spokesperson Cindy Mumby said that Wienholt has emailed County Executive Barry Glassman, who in turn reached out to the state. So far, Glassman has not received a response.


Churchill said in her email that Harford County was the only jurisdiction in Maryland to contact the governor’s office regarding the reopening of movie theaters.

Mumby said reopening theaters is not within the county’s authority, but that Glassman trusts the governor is keeping a close eye on the state’s relevant metrics.

After 51 years in the theater business — beginning as an usher in the 1969 and starting his own business in 1979 — Wienholt said he hopes the restrictions are lifted soon to avoid further financial hardship and continue his work.

“I do not know anything else,” Wienholt said. “This is my life’s work going down the drain.”

Wienholt, who lives in Forest Hill, has previously operated Beards Hill Movies in Aberdeen from 1986 to 1998, when the theater closed due to competition from Regal Cinemas in Abingdon. He announced plans in the spring of 2019 to bring movies back to Aberdeen. He opened the Horizon Cinemas in Fallston in 2017.

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