Movie theaters, gyms and museums prepare for reopening 

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  • Tower Theaters owner Robert Adam cleans the new ticket window at the theater in South Hadley on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Each of the two theaters at Tower Theaters at the Village Commons in South Hadley has been modified to accommodate up to 25 customers. The backs of the seats on every other row have been removed and replaced with small tables. A computer program will arrange seating to provide closeness within parties and social separation between distinct parties. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tower Theaters owner Robert Adam cleans the patron side of a new ticket window at the theater in South Hadley on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Each of the two theaters at Tower Theaters at the Village Commons in South Hadley has been modified to accommodate up to 25 viewers. The backs of the seats on every other row have been removed and replaced with small tables and a computer program will arrange seating to provide closeness within parties and social separation between distinct parties. Photographed on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeff Swanson, owner of Anytime Fitness in Northampton, motions to the clear curtain barriers separating the distanced exercise equipment in the cardio area of the gym on Saturday. Swanson and his crew have been preparing for a 5 a.m reopening on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • These moveable barriers in the free weights area at Anytime Fitness in Northampton are part of the preparations for a reopening at 5 a.m on Monday. Photographed on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeff Swanson, owner of Anytime Fitness in Northampton, holds signs he'll be posting around the gym as he prepares for a 5 a.m reopening on Monday. Photographed on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeff Swanson, owner of Anytime Fitness in Northampton, is having two of these ionizers installed by Matthew Patterson of Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling in Southampton to purify the air at the gym. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Anytime Fitness in Northampton has undergone some changes to be ready for a 5 a.m reopening on Monday, July 6. Photographed on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeff Swanson, owner of Anytime Fitness in Northampton, and his son, site manager Zach Swanson, have created a mix of hanging, free-standing and portable barriers in advance of the gym's reopening at 5 a.m on Monday, July 6. Photographed on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Matthew Patterson of Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling in Southampton is installing two of these ionizers at Anytime Fitness in Northampton to purify the air at the gym. Photographed on Saturday, July 4, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/4/2020 9:40:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Gyms, movie theaters and museums in the state are some of the main businesses and attractions that will be allowed to reopen under new rules beginning Monday — and while some area establishments will unlock their doors next week, others have said they aren’t quite prepared to reopen so soon.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced the start date for the first step of Phase 3 of his administration’s four-phased economic reopening plan on Thursday. Beginning July 6 in Massachusetts and July 13 in Boston, movie theaters and outdoor performance venues; museums, cultural and historic sites; fitness centers and health clubs; casinos and more are allowed to reopen with specific rules after months of being shuttered due to the pandemic. Baker also released a revised order effective Monday that limits indoor gatherings to eight people per 1,000 square-feet, not to exceed 25 people.

Earlier phases allowed restaurants to reopen indoor and outdoor dining, as well as indoor retail shopping. Baker did say on Thursday that Phase 4 of his reopening plan, which would include bars, festivals and large capacity venues, would be dependent on a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. As of Friday, there have been 109,628 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts and 8,149 total deaths, and hospitalizations are declining overall.

Jeff Swanson is the owner of Anytime Fitness on King Street in Northampton and said that this business, as well as two other fitness centers he owns in Belchertown and Westfield, will reopen on Monday. There are some strict rules for reopening fitness centers; exercise areas must be 14 feet apart unless barriers are erected, and occupancy is limited to 40% of its maximum permitted — or eight people per 1,000 square-feet of space if occupancy isn’t on record.

Swanson said that since he’s a franchisee, best practices on reopening have already been passed on internally from other states and countries in which Anytime Fitness has a presence. Swanson said he’s been creating barriers with PVC piping as its framework to place between machines at his gym. Gym-goers are being asked to wear face masks as often as possible but can take it off if they’re not around anyone else, he said. Machines will be sanitized constantly and disinfectant wipes for people exercising will be more readily available.

“We’re going to go above and beyond the standard checklist,” Swanson said.

Swanson said his gym has been shut down with no revenue since March, but that he tried to stay active within the community by doing free exercise training over Facebook. As to whether he thinks he’ll see interest from his members beginning Monday, Swanson isn’t sure, but he’s prepared to switch on a reservation process to limit occupancy if people come flooding back. He said he thinks members will be pay more attention to sanitary measures.

“I know they don’t want to see us shut down again,” Swanson said of his members. “I think they’re going to be more diligent than ever.”

Movie theaters

Robert Adam, owner of South Hadley’s Tower Theaters, said he’s not planning on reopening until the tentative date of July 17 — mostly because he still has some work to do in getting his establishment ready.

Adam said that he’s picking some older films to show when he first opens, as COVID-19 has also put a damper on Hollywood and the first big new releases are expected July 31. Every other row of seats have been taken out and converted to tables to encourage social distancing, and Tower Theaters’ computerized ticketing system will block off seats to make sure occupancy limits are met. When not sitting in one of his theater’s two screening rooms, moviegoers are required to wear a face mask, Adam said.

“People are sitting in restaurants eating food,” Adam said. “Based on people’s willingness and need to go out and eat, I think they’re ready to go out and see movies, too.”

Over in Amherst, Holly Greeley, the interim executive director of Amherst Cinema, said that theater hopes to open sometime in September. The cinema recently received a $90,000 matching grant from the Mass Cultural Council for help with replacing theater seats and a renovation of the lobby to make it more accessible. The renovation will begin this month; the seat replacement is slated for September and its completion will determine when the theater opens again, Greeley said. The cinema also received a $50,000 award as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for personnel and facilities costs.

Those looking for something other than movies or exercise will also be able to go to museums and historic sites beginning Monday, but Historic Northampton, for example, is waiting until at least September before deciding to reopen its indoor spaces, said Elizabeth Sharpe, co-executive director of the museum.

“Our one exhibit gallery inside Damon House is small,” Sharpe said. “It could accommodate just a few people social distancing, and then it would be hard for them to move around the exhibit while concentrating on staying at least six feet from others. In addition, our hands-on section would have to be closed.”

Reopening now would also mean staff would have to be retrained on new safety guidelines, she said. And since a lot of people who come to Historic Northampton are of older age groups and thus more susceptible to developing a more serious case of COVID-19, Sharpe said the organization just doesn’t know if people will come if they open. She said she is watching what other museums of its size and type are doing, adding that Historic Northampton is constantly evaluating the situation.

“There’s no pressure for us to open,” Sharpe said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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