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Local theater plans to reopen

If Chaves County stays “green” in the state COVID-19 risk-assessment ratings when data is updated Wednesday, the Galaxy 8 movie theater on North Main Street intends to reopen April 16. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Company’s plan relies on ‘Green Level’ ranking for county

Roswell is beginning to see the return of businesses that have been closed during the coronavirus crisis, either out of health concerns or due to requirements of New Mexico public health orders.

One of the latest signs of renewed business life is the planned reopening of one of Roswell’s two movie theaters, the Galaxy 8 in the Roswell Mall area on North Main Street.

The announcement that the theater intends to start operating again on April 16 after almost a year of closure follows other signs of increased business activity in the past couple of weeks: some popular local restaurants have opened or announced their intentions to do so; the city and its special events consultants are scheduling the UFO Festival for early July; a major tenant is making final preparations to open at the Roswell Mall; and American Airlines flights to and from Phoenix out of the Roswell Air Center returned this weekend.

Calls and emails to the other movie theater in town, Apex 10 Cinema on West Hobbs Street, were not returned by press time. Its website and social media sites indicate the site will not reopen before April 10, but that the time frame will be “soon.”

Of course, returning to service depends on whether Chaves County remains at the “Green Level” in the four-tiered risk assessment system used by the state. At the medium-risk level, or Green Level, businesses can operate with fewer restrictions. Indoor service for food and drink establishments can occur at 50% occupancy if businesses have received the free NM Safe certified training, and indoor indoor theaters and entertainment venues can open at 25% capacity, for example. The risk levels are determined by COVID-19 case numbers and test positivity rates, and the data and county risk category are due to be updated Wednesday.

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“If we go back to yellow, we are on pause again,” said Russell Allen, a company officer and owner with Allen Theatres Inc., a chain operating in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.

If the county stays in the Green Level, Galaxy 8 will join three other Allen theaters in New Mexico and Arizona to reopen on April 16. Its theater in Durango, Colorado, has been operating for three weekends, the only one in the chain to be welcoming back customers so far.

The plans are for the Roswell operation to begin with shows on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays, Allen said.

“I suspect that will be for several weeks until we get into summertime, when there are more theatrical-only releases and hopefully the herd immunity is coming to a certain point and we can get into more of a comfort-setting for the customers and larger capacities, per the governor’s orders,” Allen said.

The theater will observe all the state health protocols, he said. The ticket purchasing software will automatically create social distancing between people or groups of people, and employees will wear face coverings. Customers also will be asked to wear masks, unless eating or drinking in the auditorium.

What will be new is that at least one screen will be reserved for private showings for people or groups that don’t want to be around others, Allen said.

“We are following kind of the industry by having one or two screens available for what they are calling private watch parties,” he said. “There are still people concerned about the bubble, so we will set aside at least one screen so they can watch one picture for one price.”

Allen said that he is excited to see a return to business in New Mexico and that business has been good so far in Colorado.

“We are pleased with the turnout. The customers are coming. They seem to be excited about being there,” he said. “We haven’t heard any comments about people being uncomfortable about any procedures that are happening. I think people are just excited about being able to get out again.”

Allen is also an officer with the Rocky Mountain division of the North American Association of Theatre Owners, which appealed in September to the New Mexico Economic Recovery Council to allow movie theaters to operate at that time. The Recovery Council is made up of appointed business leaders who provide recommendations and guidance to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other state officials on business restrictions and reopenings.

Allen describes his business as “being at the mercy of the governor” and continues to express some frustration with the reopening criteria and the public health orders.

He said that state officials originally explained that business closures were needed to “flatten the curve” to prevent overwhelming the state’s health care system, not to eliminate COVID spread entirely. He wonders why strict regulations are still needed when current COVID hospitalizations are below 100.

Two counties where his company has theaters, Dona Ana and Otero, remain in the “high-risk” or Yellow Level category.

“If she doesn’t change the criteria to be able to open, I may never be able to open my theaters in Las Cruces,” he said, “and that is just kind of the way it is, just by the nature of proximity to El Paso and the border and our population. I just hope that she changes something following the herd immunity with the vaccines and those who have already tested positive with antibodies and the availability of hospital beds.”

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.