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Malverne Cinema remains ‘last in line’ for reopening

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As businesses throughout the Village of Malverne reopen, Malverne Cinema has yet to be included in the state’s phased reopening plans. Its owners, Henry and Anne Stampfel, held a news conference outside the theater on Aug. 27, and spoke about the importance of reopening.

“The economic hardship that all businesses are facing this year is incomparable,” Anne said, “and our industry seems to be last in line to reopen. Time is of the essence for us, and it’s ticking away.”

The cinema has been in Malverne since 1947, and the Stampfels have owned it for almost 30 years. The couple, who were joined by elected officials, said they had hoped for more support from state lawmakers and theater organizations.

“It’s paramount for them to reopen,” said Joseph Masher, president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “If they don’t, we’re going to see all of these businesses start to close up. They all feed off of each other.”

Masher spent the past week traveling across the state in an effort to bring attention to local theaters. “It’s towns like this that need their movie theater,” Masher said, adding that many theaters, such as Franklin Square Cinemas, have permanently closed.

The association has issued a set of health and safety guidelines called Cinema Safe, which many movie theaters have signed on to. As of Monday, however, New York was one of only six states that had not reopened theaters, according to Masher. More than 10,000 full- and part-time movie theater employees have been laid off or furloughed since the coronavirus lockdown took effect in March, he said.

“People really want to get back to movie theaters, and we know we can do it safely,” Masher said. “Theaters such as Malverne’s serve as anchors in the local community.”

State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, whose 21st District includes Malverne, said that after reviewing Malverne Cinema’s safety protocols, she believed it was fully prepared to reopen. “With this pandemic, so many of our businesses have been hit hard,” Griffin said. “Not only do movie theaters need to be open for themselves, but they need to be open for the businesses around them.”

Malvernite Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick, who is challenging Griffin for her Assembly seat in November’s election, questioned why legislators have not voted to take control of decisions on reopening from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “This [theater] is a vital part of our community and our business district,” Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick said. “Instead of trying to get the governor to listen, why not get your colleagues in Albany to vote for it?”

Griffin said that between reopening schools, businesses and beaches, there needs to be consistency in decision making. She added that while the process may be frustrating, the best option is for Cuomo to lead. “Right now, it’s still important to have him at the helm,” Griffin said, “because it’s going to be very difficult to do this by county or village.”

Andy Stone, regional director of the Regal Entertainment Group, said that his company has worked with theaters to develop comprehensive health and safety measures for both employees and moviegoers. “I think we can all agree that nothing compares to sharing that one-of-a-kind experience that only the big screen can provide,” Stone said.

Stampfel said that between the three theaters she and her husband own in Nassau County — Malverne Cinema, Bellmore Movies and North Shore Towers in Floral Park — they have seen only 75 active movie days this year. Seeing the Malverne Cinema’s neighboring businesses, such as Fitness 19 and Sandee Lanes, reopen, she said, has made their business staff more eager to get back to work.

“We don’t have shareholders and we don’t have deep pockets,” Stampfel said. “It’s vital that we reopen safely and quickly to begin to contribute to our local economies.”