New releases have returned to the Athens Movie Palace and precautions are being taken as the theater begins to return to normal.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the United States, filming and theatrical releases of movies were slowed down or stopped entirely, causing theaters such as the Athens Movie Palace to alter the way they did business for that time period.

Now, however, new releases are beginning to appear once again.

“Since June, when we were allowed to reopen, we were limited to showing older movies free of charge,” Movie Palace Director of Operations Kavitha Reddy said. “As of Sept. 3, we have a full schedule of new releases at our regular ticket prices. We are also offering curbside concession purchases.”

She noted that this return to normal will lead to the Movie Palace only showing new releases, with the exception of special events.

“As long as new releases are available, we will not have older films as part of a regular schedule, but hope to continue doing the special events we did in the past with older movies,” Reddy explained. “The studios are basing their decision about future releases on the success of the movies out now. So it’s important for consumers to send a message to Hollywood that they are ready to go back to the theater.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, alterations have been made to the way the Movie Palace functions, Reddy said. For some time, concessions have been sold at the curb to area residents and, since the theater has been able to reopen, precautions have been taken to increase safety for moviegoers.

“We are committed to the ‘Cinema Safe’ program orchestrated by the National Association of Theater Owners,” Reddy said. “This program is dedicated to making sure all participating companies are doing their part to keeping guests safe. The precautions you will see at the theater include outside screening of guests to limit the amount of time they spend in the lobby. Guests are encouraged to look at the concession menus before they get to the cashier so that they can speed up the amount of time interacting with our staff.”

She added that protective equipment is also on hand and stuff that is touched by people has been limited to protect employees and customers.

“We do wear masks and have plexiglass shields between the register and customer to offer another layer of protection,” she said. “We have reduced the number of items that customers will communally touch. Lids are handed to the customer with their cups by our staff instead of the lid dispensers that were on the counters. We have added wrapped straws instead of using the straw dispensers.”

Reddy added that there are also social distancing precautions in place both when customers enter and when they get into an auditorium.

“We have six feet markers throughout the lobby to keep guests at safe distances,” she said. “We are only using one register by the far wall to give space for customers filling their drinks and to limit the amount of people waiting to go into the theater. Guests are helped to the auditorium by our staff where they are seated with six feet (three seats) between them and other groups. We are only using every other row in an effort to add more distance between guests.”

Those social distancing protocols do mean some adjustments might be required to accommodate customers, however.

“This means that our seating capacity is significantly decreased,” Reddy continued. “While it can vary a bit based on group size, you can expect a maximum of 50 people in our largest theaters. This hasn’t been an issue yet, but we hope as people feel more comfortable, we will need to add more showtimes to accommodate everyone. We encourage guests to exit through the side doors on the auditoriums to avoid coming in contact with other guests.”

Reddy added that everything is being done to ensure a minimal risk of coronavirus spread.

“At this point, our number one concern is the safety of our guests,” she said. “Masks are strongly encouraged but not required. We do appreciate exact change so that we can limit the amount of back and forth of items between customers. We want our guests to feel comfortable coming back to the theater. We have increased the cleaning in all areas, but especially areas that the customers spend the most time in. Where possible, we alternate theaters so that guests may be in a brand new seat that hasn’t been used in days. We are committed to doing our part to help stop the spread so that we can all get back to regular life.”

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