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Movie Theaters Permitted to Reopen Friday, But Some Queens Indie Operators Are Weighing Up Their Options

Cinemart on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills (Photo: Queens Post)

March 2, 2021 By Christina Santucci

Movie theaters across New York City can usher in patrons Friday — for the first time in nearly a year — but some cinema operators in Queens will not be opening their doors just yet.

Three independent cinemas in Queens are among those that will not be opening Friday.

The owner of the Bombay Theatre in Fresh Meadows plans to wait before reopening, while the owners of Cinemart in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens Cinemas both said they hope to welcome back movie goers at the end of March.

Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that movie theaters in New York City could restart showings March 5 at 25 percent capacity and a maximum of 50 patrons.

Some larger Queens theaters are already selling tickets for later this week. But indie cinema owners said they’ve been trying to figure out the logistics — and even feasibility — of reopening on short notice and with tight limits on patrons.

Mohammad Asif, who owns the Bombay Theatre, said the current capacity limits would only allow for 50 people inside his 400-person cinema, which has one viewing room.

“If the occupancy doesn’t go up, what can we do with 50 people?” he said. “You will be losing money every week.”

The Bombay Theatre also focuses on Bollywood movies, and the next major release date is in May. Asif hoped by then the cap on patrons will be increased. “We want to wait and see what happens,” he said.

The owner of Kew Gardens Cinema said in an email Monday he was targeting the end of March for reopening. On its Facebook page, the cinema asked for patience from movie-goers as it worked to “get all the inner workings in order.”

Meanwhile, Nicolas Nicholaou, who owns Cinemart in Forest Hills as well as two other theaters – one in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn, also said he needed more time before welcoming back patrons.

“We are trying to get things together and 100 percent prepared before we reopen,” said  “It’s a year anyway. What’s another three or four weeks?”

His theater in Manhattan flooded about two weeks ago — just days before Cuomo’s announcement — and he has been focused on making repairs at that location. “The pipes froze and we have extensive damage,” he said.

Plus, there is still some work to do in Queens — training staff and installing new safety measures. Cinemart is updating its ticketing software, so when patrons purchase assigned seats online adjacent ones will be blocked off so as to abide by social distancing requirements.

And even though Nicholaou is happy to be able to reopen, he didn’t expect to make a profit with the current capacity limits.

“The truth is you will not be able to pay your expenses at 25 percent,” he said, explaining that the state would allow 50 percent capacity in the coming months.

Nicholaou said it seemed senseless that theaters were closed for so long — even as in-door dining and gyms reopened.

“You go to a restaurant with no mask, face to face with somebody eating,” he said. “Or you go to the gyms, people are huffing and puffing.”

Asif agreed. “Movie theaters should have been opened with limited capacity,” he said. “They have better ventilation systems than many restaurants.”

New York City movie theaters have been shuttered since last March to reduce the spread of Covid-19 — even as cinemas in some parts of the state were allowed to reopen in October.

Small theater owners like Nicholaou and Asif are also waiting to see if they will be able to access relief funds from the $15 billion grant program, Save Our Stages, created by Congress in December.

Elsewhere in Queens — at least five movie theaters are expected to reopen March 5: Main Street Cinemas in Kew Gardens Hills, the Bayside and Fresh Meadows locations of AMC Theatre and the College Point and Jamaica Multiplexes.

It is unclear when Regal, which has movie theaters in Astoria, Glendale and Forest Hills, will welcome back patrons. The company released a statement on Twitter Feb. 25, saying it was “encouraged” by Cuomo’s announcement that theaters could reopen in the city.

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