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Movie theater owner advocates for industry reopening

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The owner of a movie theater chain with a Roswell location said that he doesn’t plan on creating a drive-in operation here and instead is working to encourage the state to allow theaters to reopen.

Russell Allen of Allen Theatres Inc. is the president of the Rocky Mountain division of the National Association of Theater Owners. His company runs 12 locations in nine communities in New Mexico, a well as three in Colorado and two in Arizona.

He said he and other association officials were scheduled to talk Tuesday afternoon with members of the New Mexico Economic Recovery Council to discuss why indoor movie theaters should once again be allowed to open up to customers, having been shut down since late March.

“We are pleading our cases to get open because we believe that we are safer than churches and restaurants,” he said. “With a movie theater, we know when the people are coming, we know how long they are going to be there, we know where they are going to sit and we know when they are going to leave, so we can completely sanitize the surfaces after they leave to get ready for the next crew. And there is no talking. There’s no face-to-face socialization, and we just believe that we are way safer than any other business. We are just shocked that we are still closed.”

The theater association, which represents more than 300 companies and 2,600 theater locations nationwide, also developed safety protocols and procedures it is calling CinemaSafe, which are based on guidelines released by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Allen Theatres Inc. is one of the CinemaSafe participants.

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Allen said that he is aware that the Economic Recovery Council can only advise Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other administration officials, so he is not expecting any changes in health orders in the coming few days. In fact, he thinks it likely will be October before any changes are made.

Under renewed public health orders that took effect Sept. 4, “close-contact recreational facilities” are to remain closed until at least Oct. 2. In addition to movie theaters, that category includes performance venues, concert venues, museums with interactive displays, arcades, bowling alleys and other recreational facilities.

Allen said his operations in Arizona and Colorado are open, but indoor operations are closed in New Mexico. He said that about 350 employees were laid off, with only management and office staff retained.

He did open drive-ins in Farmington, Gallup and Las Cruces. At one time, he thought about starting one here, but he said those plans were put aside when case numbers and infection rates in New Mexico began to go back down.

“When all the cases started going below the governor’s gating system, it kind of made us sit back and say that we might be able to open up sooner rather than later, so we kind of back-burnered the drive-in idea,” he said. “There has to be a time soon that the governor has to open up the state. All the gating criteria is being met. Clearly the citizens of New Mexico are doing what is necessary to make the state safe.”

He said that he started drive-ins at the other New Mexico locations because he owns the property and they had large enough parking lots for at least 100 cars, but the Galaxy 8 Theatres location at the Roswell Mall is leased and it would require more logistics to make the necessary arrangements.

Costs and profits also are factors.

“Drive-ins are not a profitable business, not even remotely,” he said.

He explained it would cost him at least a few thousand dollars to set up a drive-in, yet he would only be able to show one movie one time a night. Typically his locations show eight movies, with up to five showings a day of each movie.

The other movie theater in the city, Apex Cinema on West Hobbs Street, was not able to be reached by press time.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.