The Parkade Cinemas in Manchester went dark in mid-March. Owner Ali Davis said he shut the doors two days early.
“We knew it was the responsible thing to do,” said Davis.
The coronavirus crisis has put a spotlight on an already struggling industry.
“Closing our theater was pretty devastating. You know, to be able to handle the bills as a small independent theater is almost impossible without being open every day,” he explained.
Davis estimated he lost between $100,000 and $150,000 during the closure. Now, he said he’s spending tens of thousands of dollars to reopen, buying jugs of hand sanitizer, adding touchless sinks and toilets to the bathrooms and eight more employees to his staff.
“It’s going to take a lot of servicing to actually make sure we have people in place to enforce the social distancing rules,” said Davis.
As more businesses get set to reopen, technology will play an important role. Online orders and cashless transactions will be the norm.
However, the Parkade will also rely on some old-fashioned customer service to keep people safe.
“Ushers are bringing them in which we didn’t do before to seat them appropriately and make sure they don’t move and sit in another seat,” he explained. “We’re cleaning those areas particularly well.”
No amount of cleaning will be enough for Normaliz Acosta.
“I’m not going in there yet,” said Acosta, a Manchester resident.
In fact, she said she’ll be avoiding indoor activities for at least another year.
"Enclosed space, not a fan of it,” Acosta stated. “I don’t think there’s going to be enough ventilation.”
John Didonato agreed.
“I think this is only halftime of the pandemic,” said Didonato. “I won’t be comfortable going to a movie, to a concert, on an airplane.”
Sue Racicot of Sommers just took her first flight since the pandemic nearly grounded the airline industry.
“It was the best experience traveling of my life,” she said.
She added that she can’t wait for Connecticut to get back to business, even if it’s not business as usual.
“I think it’s a great idea. I think that now that spring is here the weather’s nicer, people have been cooped up in their homes, they need to get out they need to socialize,” she said.
“I think if there’s social distancing and folks wear their masks then it will be OK but a lot of folks are choosing not to wear their masks so that will be a problem,” said Michael Heaven.
The Parkade also plans to turn their parking lots in to a drive-in theater in the evenings. Davis said when the drive-in is operating, customers won’t be allowed inside the theater except to use the bathroom. Concessions will be brought out to the customers.
Davis said there’s a laundry list of requirements to reopen, but fears they won’t be effective if people don’t follow the rules.
“No matter how many touchless devices you put in, people still have to be self-aware,” he said.
Libraries to Resume Services Slowly
Libraries will also be allowed to reopen on June 17, but the CEO of the Hartford Public Library says they won’t be ready until early July.
“This is the first time that staff has been back in the building,” Bridget Quinn-Carey said on Monday. “We have a lot to get ready to reopen to the public.”
She added that the seven other branches in their system will stay closed even longer. Due to their size and social distancing regulations she said a new workflow will have to be figured out before they can reopen.
When Hartford’s libraries do reopen, they’re going to look different. Computers, desks, and chairs will be spread out, capacity will be cut in half, and browsing for books will be banned, for now.
“It will be requesting materials that the staff will take from the shelves and make available to the person who requests them,” Quinn-Carey said. “We want to make sure we’re reducing that level of contact with our items as well as preventing too much contact within the stacks themselves.”
A similar feature will start on June 22, where patrons can pick-up books they’ve reserved online or over the phone in a contactless curbside system. Quinn-Carey said when the library begins resuming services in early July computers will be available and patrons will be able to go inside the building to request books. Library books will be quarantined for three days between borrowers.
She added that programming will not restart until a later phase.
Other amusements like bowling alleys and theme parks will also be allowed to reopen on June 17.
Will customers come?
Didonato is leery.
“You just don’t want people touching things that you are going to be touching,” he said.
“The parks are definitely, I’m more open to because it’s outside and you’re able to distance yourself. Libraries I would be a little bit more cautious,” said Heaven.
The former Hartford resident pointed out that borrowing books is one of many purposes the library serves.
“I think just going in, have a place to sit down for a while, go online for a while, is what a lot of folks do in the Hartford library,” Heaven added.
Quinn-Carey said she’s taking her cues from public health officials and while she knows what the next chapter at the library will look like, she’s uncertain exactly how and when this story will end.
“Until I think we as a society have our arms around what safe is, we’ll probably be in some kind of modified service until the entire world is back to normal,” she said.