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The Popcorn Is Fresh, Pandemic Restrictions Lifted, But Arthouse Cinemas Limit Seating

A pre-pandemic scene in the lobby of Amherst Cinema in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Jerrey Roberts
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
A pre-pandemic scene in the lobby of Amherst Cinema in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Now free of government-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, most movie theaters in New England have reopened in full. But after months of streaming movies and selling tickets in a limited capacity, several area arthouse cinemas are choosing to stay half-empty.While Real Artwaysin Hartford has been selling 100% of their seats since mid-June, Images Cinemain Williamstown, Massachusetts, has been selling only half their seats. The historic Brattle Theaterin Cambridge reopens Friday, also at about half capacity.

Earlier this year Amherst Cinemahad been selling seats in the single digits. Friday the cinema will reopen its doors a bit wider, but only 50% of their seats will be available.

Amherst Cinema Executive Director Yasmin Chin Eisenhauer said they're striking a balance between whether customers are safe, and whether they feel safe.

"We know that we have HVAC filtration, we have cleaning protocols, and even the people who self-reported visiting the theater in the month of June – 100% reported being fully vaccinated. But the, ‘Do I feel comfortable?’ — well, that's the psychological safety,” Eisenhauer said.

Amherst Cinema will continue its film streaming service. But Eisenhauer said with the slow reopening, they're making the case to customers for a full return to the movies. She said Amherst Cinema plans to begin making all seats available in the next few weeks. 

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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