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Hollywood returns to Mayberry

Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky date, but it was a good day for local movie-goers with the reopening of Creekside Cinemas in Mount Airy.

Screens at the theater complex on East Bluemont Road, which had been dark since around mid-March as a result of various business shutdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, began showing movies again Friday afternoon.

However, not all 10 screens of the facility are in service at this time and seating capacity is limited for the five movies now being shown.

After being prohibited from operating for about six months, movie houses in North Carolina were allowed to reopen in early October after Gov. Roy Cooper announced that cinemas and other entertainment venues could resume at limited capacity.

Yet some theaters around the state — including Creekside Cinemas — held off reopening for a variety of reported reasons that kept this from being a matter of simply flipping a switch. These included the need to restock concessions, ensure proper staffing in a tight labor market and deal with a chaotic situation in the commercial film industry.

Release dates for many new movies have been postponed until next year, or indefinitely, as a result of COVID-19’s effects on production and distribution which have limited programming availability, industry officials say.

There were signs during the past week that Creekside Cinemas was preparing to reopen, including at least three vans of a cleaning company being spotted there to disinfect the premises.

This was confirmed Thursday with an announcement by Operations Manager Michael Gaines of East Coast Entertainment, which owns the local theater, that it would be resuming operations Friday.

A theater employee said Friday afternoon that only four “houses” or auditoriums are being used, with the two largest ones involved limited to 44 customers each and two smaller ones to 30 people each.

The lack of available movies to show, which is being experienced across the nation and leaving theaters with multiple screens unable to book enough new movies for them all, is reflected locally with only the five being screened.

These include “Freaky,” “Let Him Go,” “Come Play,” “Honest Thief” and “The War with Grandpa.”

Of those five, only “Freaky,” a comedy-horror-thriller, is a new nationwide release for this weekend, with “Let Him Go” having debuted nationally on Nov. 6. The others were all released in October.

Afternoon and evening schedules at the theater are staggered to accommodate the five movies in the seating space available.

In normal times, about four new releases per weekend are possible at Creekside Cinemas.

Some theaters elsewhere are filling their screens with older films.

Gov. Cooper announced last Tuesday that the state would stay in Phase 3 of a reopening plan for at least three more weeks, while imposing more limitations on indoor gatherings. Bars and movie theaters will be allowed to remain open, under his latest order.

Friday’s reopening of Creekside Cinemas represents a bit of a deja vu situation, due to its doors being shut for about a month around March 1, 2019 for reasons unrelated to a pandemic.

That closure coincided with a change in ownership from the Frank Theatres chain to East Coast Entertainment, in the wake of Frank filing for bankruptcy.

The shutdown occurred because East Coast had to replace sound equipment owned by Frank that it removed, Gaines said at the time.



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