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Local theaters set to reopen on Friday

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After months of being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Long Island movie theaters will be allowed to reopen on Friday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last Saturday that cinemas outside New York City could reopen at 25 percent capacity, up to a maximum of 50 people per screening. He specified that this would apply to areas that have infection rates below 2 percent on a 14-day average and have no cluster zones.

On Monday, Bellmore Movies owners Henry and Anne Stampfel were gearing up for the day they have been waiting months for, they said.

“We’re hitting the ground running here,” said Anne, who operates the single-screen theater with her husband. “We’ve done everything possible to make this reopening a possibility. I don’t know too many theaters on Long Island that can survive as long as we have.”

Cuomo’s announcement came a day after the state conducted nearly 160,000 Covid-19 tests in one day — a new record.

Bellmore Movies has been in operation since 1909 (see box) and is the longest continually operating and last single-screen theater on Long Island. The Stampfels have been the sole owners since 1999.

The theater has earned a reputation in Nassau County as a spot to showcase independent films. In normal years, the Stampfels host screenings for the Long Island International Film Expo at Bellmore Movies, an opportunity that was lost this year because of the pandemic.

“We’ve always been cautious leading up to this moment,” Henry said, “but things will go right if we all follow the rules.”

“We’re excited to get back,” Anne said. “We didn’t know when we’d get the OK, but we’ve been ready since Phase 4.”

The Stampfels, who also own Malverne Cinema and North Shore Towers in Floral Park, have only had 75 active movie days in 2020. They were disappointed not to be included in Phase 4 of Cuomo’s reopening schedule, Henry said, but they are eager to get back to work.

Social-distancing guidelines will be maintained by blocking off every other row of seats in the theater. Employees will be temperature-checked daily and will be equipped with masks, face shields and gloves — “I’ll be wearing it, too,” Anne said.

Seats and bathrooms will be sanitized after staggered show times as well, and hand blow dryers have been replaced with paper towel dispensers.

“The protocols have all been in place for weeks now,” Henry said. “Our main focus is getting the regular part of the theater up and operating, and bringing in new employees, since some of them were forced to find other jobs.”

The Stampfels also created a new position for Covid times. The employee, or theater checker, will make sure audience members are socially distanced before the start of each screening.

In an email, the owner of Merrick Cinemas V indicated that the theater would not reopen this Friday, but would likely do so in the coming weeks. The capacity limit and postponement of a majority of Hollywood’s biggest releases “might make it impossible to survive,” according to the owner.

Representatives of the New York chapter of the National Association of Theatre Owners held a news conference at Malverne Cinema in August, at which the organization issued a set of health and safety guidelines called CinemaSafe, which many movie theaters have signed on to. “It’s towns like this that need their movie theater,” said Joseph Masher, president of the association’s New York chapter.

“As theaters have demonstrated in 48 states so far, the movie-going experience can be enjoyed safely with strict guidelines and protocols in place for health and safety under our industry’s CinemaSafe plan,” the organization wrote in a statement. “As parts of the state reopen theaters starting this Friday, it is our hope that theaters in New York City follow suit shortly thereafter.”

“We want the public to know how much work we’ve put in to make them feel safe to come back,” Anne said. “If everybody continues to follow the rules, we should be fine.”