Amherst Cinema to rent its largest theater for private screenings

  • Amherst Cinema has not yet been able to reopen to the public. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/2/2020 3:04:04 PM

AMHERST — The Amherst Cinema, which had hoped to reopen by now, has not yet reached that point. But the downtown movie house is making its largest theater available for private screenings.

The cinema’s Theater 1, which can seat as many as 181 people, will become available Nov. 13 for use by families or groups of up to 10 people who are part of a COVID-19-free “pod.” Those renting the space, for up to 2.5 hours, can bring in a film of their choice (on DVD or Blu-ray) to be screened by staff.

Some of the cinema’s own offerings, which customers have been able to rent for live-streaming from the movie house since this spring, may also be available for viewing at Theater 1 for an additional fee.

General Manager George Myers said other small cinemas and movie houses have also been renting space for private viewings and that Amherst Cinema sees this as a way to open its doors to the community, albeit in a limited capacity, and to help “put some money into the pockets of our staff.”

“This is a nice opportunity to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary, or just to do something special or different — a chance to get out of the house to see a movie,” Myers said. In terms of reopening, “We’re still in a kind of a holding pattern, so this is one way to try to stay in touch with our community.”

Theater rentals will be available on a sliding scale, beginning at $100, though the suggested rate is $250 for Amherst Cinema members and $300 for non-members. Booking is available on a first-come, first-served basis at amherstcinema.org/rentals.

Cinema officials say people are simply encouraged to pay what they can, but that meeting or exceeding the suggested rate will help to pay staff working the rental and cover operating expenses — all while providing support for the theater’s eventual reopening.

Viewers will be required to wear a mask and will also be asked, for contact tracing purposes, to sign in when entering the building.

Myers said significant renovations have been made to the cinema to increase safety, such as upgrades to the HVAC system, including increased fresh air intake, virus-blocking UV filters, and ionizers. Theater 1 rental times will also be staggered to allow thorough cleaning of the space after each screening, he said.

“We want to make this a safe venue for our customers and our staff,” he said.

The cinema had hoped to reopen by later September. But renovations to improve accessibility and safety took a little longer than expected, Myers noted, and the state’s changing limits on the size of public gatherings also left too much uncertainty about how many films could realistically be shown.

Myers said that under current state guidelines, the cinema is only able to permit eight people at a time in its three smaller theaters — their full capacity is 46 — so that between that limited capacity and ongoing concerns about safety for staff and customers, “It just didn’t seem like we could make that work.”

“We continue to discuss [reopening], but for now we think renting space here is the best option for us and our customers and members,” he noted.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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