Valley News – Upper Valley Theaters Plan to Return After Taking a Break for Pandemic Closures
HANOVER – Add movie screenings to the list of upcoming attractions.
Several theaters in the Upper Valley are testing their projectors and cleaning their concession stands in anticipation of reopening after being closed for nearly 15 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, like a Hollywood sequel that falls short of what fans were hoping for, theaters will be limited, delayed, and in one notable case the question remains open.
The Nugget in downtown Hanover will reopen for three shows a day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting June 18, said Jeff Graham, president of the non-profit Hanover Improvement Society, which operates the four-party cinema. screens.
“We’re going to play it by ear to see if the appetite is there to open up again seven days a week,” Graham said last week. “We think people are ready to come back.”
The Nugget closed in March 2020 when the state of New Hampshire ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down for several months, then briefly reopened for two weeks in July before closing again after only a handful of people walked away. are presented.
The only indoor cinema that has screened films in the Upper Valley is the Claremont Cinema Center multiplex on Washington Street in Claremont, which reopened in May but only for Friday, Saturday and Sunday screenings.
Alita Wilson, executive director of Pentangle Arts, which operates the Town Hall Theater, a 385-seat auditorium in Woodstock Town Hall, where films had been screened regularly on weekends and Mondays but closed last March in due to the pandemic, said it aimed to reopen in August.
This was even earlier than Wilson thought – initially she was aiming for fall – but Vermont eased pandemic restrictions sooner than she expected and now Wilson has said that ‘she was scrambling to hire staff and find a new projectionist because the previous one had left for another job.
“I didn’t expect the faucet to turn on as fast as it did,” Wilson said. “But with our high vaccination rate, I feel pretty comfortable now. “
(Vermont was over 78% immunization on Friday; Gov. Phil Scott has pledged to lift all pandemic-related restrictions from the state once that number hits 80%.)
Wilson said another factor delaying the reopening – there will be no change in ticket prices – is that work on the ventilation and heating system at Woodstock Town Hall is currently underway and should not be ready until the end of the summer.
“The ducts need to be cleaned and we make sure the heating coil is working. The system was not turned on for a year, ”she explained.
The Fairlee Drive-in opened on Friday with its feature debut, R-rated action thriller Jason Statham Anger of man. The door and concession open at 7 p.m. and the film usually starts showing at dusk around 8:45 p.m.
But the Fairlee Drive-in posted on its Facebook page that the social distancing rules it adopted last summer to only allow 50% capacity with a single car between speaker poles and people. required to wear face masks outside their car remain in effect.
The Bethel Drive-in is filming for an opening on June 18, owner Tammy Tomaszewski said, although she is not sure what the first film will be. Last year, with Hollywood studios not releasing any new movies, the Bethel Drive-in showed some retro movies.
“This year they’re starting to release movies again and (we) will probably be doing a mix of retro and first-run movies,” said Tomaszewski, who added that face masks won’t be necessary for people who have been. fully vaccinated.
At Randolph’s Playhouse Theater – at 102, one of the oldest movie theaters in the country – theater manager Tom Bevins said it would open “in time for the weekend of July 4”.
Bevins said the Playhouse, which has been closed since the advent of COVID-19 and converted this year to a non-profit so it can operate grants and fundraisers, chose this weekend to reopen from Wednesday to Sunday to coincide with the exit F9, the latest Fast Furious franchise.
Meanwhile, the status of the four-screen entertainment theaters on Miracle Mile Plaza in Lebanon remains uncertain.
The theater operator and owner were embroiled in lawsuits against each other and in April the theater filed for bankruptcy, saying it had only made $ 241,000 in ticket sales and sales. concessions in 2020, compared to $ 1.1 million in 2019 (the Théâtre du Liban closed in March 2020 and never reopened).
But, in Hollywood fashion, there is a story.
The relationship between theater operator and owner, The Richmond Co., based in Massachusetts, has been underscored for years by overdue and late rent payments to the owner, according to court documents.
Then, in November, the theater operator, citing “commercial impracticability,” sued the landlord in Grafton Superior Court, asking a judge to relieve him of the obligation to pay rent during the pandemic and prevent the owner from evicting the operator of the theater for “non-payment of rent (that she) should not have to pay,” according to the complaint.
The judge was not convinced by Entertainment Cinemas’ argument and dismissed the case at the owner’s request. But the owner’s eviction action is now suspended while the bankruptcy proceedings remain open.
William Gannon, an attorney for Entertainment Cinemas, said the theater operator plans to reopen the Miracle Mile facility by late July or early August once it finishes installing new luxury seats. .
But it could be risky, said Matthew Delude, lawyer for the owner.
“Due to the automatic suspension, we cannot prevent the tenant from doing this if they choose to do so. If we ultimately prevail over the relevant issues, they would ultimately be kicked out and lose their investment in space, ”Delude said via email.
The stage is certainly set for a classic Act II showdown. But the parties could come to an agreement and the fate of the theater would become moot.
The message on the cinema marquee at Miracle Mile Plaza strikes at least a note of hope for a Hollywood ending.
“Opening soon,” he said.
Contact John Lippman at [email protected]