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Vero’s Majestic 11 theater reopens, and then closes again


There weren’t any spotlights or red carpets when the Majestic 11 theater reopened on June 19, but that didn’t stop hundreds of fans from showing up over that weekend, eager to resume a much-missed pastime.

Popcorn and licorice in hand, cinephiles filed into the theater’s auditoriums to forget the world outside for a while. Since the Great Depression and before, film has been a popular form of escape from the day-to-day reality of peoples’ lives. If ever there was a need for such an escape, summer 2020 is it. The COVID-19 crisis has created a yearning in people to take a step back from “real life.”

The Majestic had been dark for the past three months because of the pandemic and related government mandates.

But then less than two weeks after it reopened, the Majestic announced it was reclosing for two weeks “because of a large uptick in positive cases.

“We love you, and want you to stay safe,” the Majestic said. “We reopened with you in mind, we are closing back down with you in mind, and when we reopen on the 17th of July, it will be with you in mind.”

 Rick Starr II, CEO of CW Theaters, a small chain of cinemas that includes the Majestic and a theater in Melbourne, said they had no cases of COVID-19 among their employees in Florida but that one employee had tested positive at a CW Theaters cinema in the northeast.

“Where we have taken extreme precaution to ensure a safe environment we feel it only prudent for our other employees and the public’s safety to take aggressive action in stopping the spread of this virus,” Starr said.

Before shutting down until mid-July, the Majestic had followed CDC-recommended social distancing and sanitization protocols to enhance customer and staff safety.

Safety measures include plexiglass and masks anywhere that you would be face-to-face with an employee. Significant signage clarifies social distancing, and an intensive cleaning protocol had been put in place to reduce virus transmission.

To accommodate more stringent cleaning regimens, turnaround times had been increased between shows and the auditoriums were being rotated so there was more time between usage. They also were spraying seats, wiping down armrests and every inch of handrail, along with customer-touch areas in the lobbies and bathrooms.

Starr said they were encouraging customers to wear masks in the lobby, hallways, and bathrooms to mitigate transmission and protect all involved. “Once you’re in your seat, we know you’re socially distanced because we’ve set all the protocols for that to happen, so you can remove your mask and eat your snacks and drink your soda.”

He acknowledged that “there are people who can’t wear masks for any number of reasons. We’re not really in a position to question that, but we are strongly encouraging the public to wear masks in the public and common areas.”

Perhaps the most significant change to the moviegoing experience at the theater is the use of assigned seating, ensuring adequate social distancing.

“We went to a fully reserved seating model so that we can control where people sit,” Starr said. “People pick their own seats, but we can control what seats are sold in each auditorium to make sure that we’re maintaining the appropriate social distance measures.” Seats were selected and tickets purchased online ahead of time.

“It makes the experience a lot nicer and a lot easier. You get to just walk in with your tickets. You’ve already done that portion of the process,” said Starr.

While movie theaters have been cleared for 50 percent capacity during Florida’s phased reopening, Starr said the logistics of leaving empty seats between groups in rows and leaving rows open in front of and behind the groups leaves them well below the permitted capacity.

The lack of spotlights at the reopening was strategic, according to Starr. “We didn’t want to overwhelm our staff because there’s a lot of new processes and procedures. We wanted to make sure that they really had their systems down before we opened up fully.”

Even so, Starr noted that hundreds of film fans showed up – masked and with virtual tickets in hand – looking for that chance to escape into another world.

As the theater waited for new productions to catch up, it was screening repertory products, including classics like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Forrest Gump,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the Harry Potter films. Coming up are “The Blind Side,” “Planes Trains and Automobiles,” “Goonies,” “Dirty Dancing” and “Iron Giant.”

But new films were expected to be available to begin to play on the big screen when Majestic reopens July 17.

“The film industry stopped production when things shut down. Everything will be delayed the same number of months that we’ve been closed and not been running new products,” explained Starr.

Glad to have the cameras rolling again, Starr said “the most important thing about movies is that sense of community. It’s a rare situation where you get to go to something where everybody experiences the same thing, but they experience it individually.”

Nothing can replace the synergy between people during a shared experience. Jokes are funnier when others are laughing along with you. And it’s nice to know you’re not alone when something jumps out at you during a horror film. “There’s safety in numbers. Right now, those numbers are just six feet apart,” said Starr.

Cultural programming, including the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema and Met Live in HD movie-theater opera series, is set to return in the late fall or early winter. The other movie theater in Vero Beach, the AMC Theater at the Indian River Mall, remains closed.

Flyers posted at the box office and the AMC website don’t give a date for reopening. According to a recent national news media reports, the company has plans to begin a phased reopening in mid to late July.