Local businesses revise operations in wake of updated pandemic safety regulations

  • Owner Isaac Mass with one of the ultraviolet disinfecting lights that staff use between shows at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield. The measure is intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Since the Garden Cinemas on Main Street in Greenfield reopened in July, owner Isaac Mass said business has been relatively slow, with an average of four to 10 people at a show. This month, the movie theater had to cut back its hours in accordance with new state regulations intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The Hangar Pub and Grill on Federal Street in Greenfield has cut back its dine-in hours and extended its takeout hours in accordance with state regulations intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2020 8:29:32 AM

The nighttime stay-at- home advisory and the 9:30 p.m. curfew for restaurants, theaters, casinos and other entertainment venues imposed by the governor amid the COVID-19 pandemic has sent some local businesses back to the drawing board to revise their operations.

The restrictions, which went into effect earlier this month, also require mask wearing in public for anyone 5 years of age or older — regardless of whether social distancing is possible.

For at least one local business owner, the restrictions appear “counter-productive.”

“To set a curfew on (a business) … what it does is it pushes people like a funnel to the hours you are open,” said Isaac Mass, owner of Garden Cinemas on Main Street in Greenfield. “What you’re in fact doing is creating a greater density, which is more dangerous, not less dangerous.”

Since the Garden Cinemas reopened in July, business has been relatively slow, Mass said, with an average of four to 10 people at a show — sometimes as few as two people.

In Athol, Aleesha Watson, a general manager of Athol Cinemas 8, is seeing a similar trend.

“We can only do 50 percent capacity, but we’re not even getting close to that,” Watson said.

So for cinemas in particular, Mass said, the new restrictions result in a “significant hardship.”

“We’ve had to cancel late evening shows on Friday and Saturday night, and reduce and restructure our schedule to ensure all shows get out by 9:30,” he said. “This is a significant hardship to the theater because Friday and Saturday evenings are our best show times, our most popular show times.”

Unlike retail establishments, he said, where the cost of certain items is the same throughout the day, matinees aren’t as profitable to a cinema as evening showings.

“We’re losing premium revenue at our most popular time,” Mass said, noting he will be more selective about the movies he brings in to ensure the theater meets its license fees for a film.

Nearby, the 9:30 p.m. curfew for restaurants led to Hangar Pub and Grill in Greenfield cut back its dine-in hours and extended its takeout hours, which would typically end at the same time as indoor dining, said Alyssa Raples, a manager at the restaurant on Federal Street.

“We’re trying to accommodate the patrons that maybe get out of work late,” she said.

Takeout and delivery is now available Monday through Wednesday until 10 p.m. and Thursday through Sunday until 11 p.m. Indoor dining, however, closes at 9:30 p.m., in accordance with the state regulations.

Raples declined to comment on whether she feels the state’s measures are an effective tool to curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“What we are trying to do is make sure our patrons still have access to our food, while also making sure their safety and health are our main priority,” she said.

At the Garden Cinemas, Mass said that with its existing protocols — every other row is blocked off, and masks are required whenever a patron is not seated — going to the movie theater is “the safest activity” one could do during a pandemic.

“What we’ve done for 100 years is teach people that silence is golden at the theater,” he said. “The activity that passes the virus most actively is yelling and singing. At a movie theater, people don’t talk during a movie. And if they do, they’re talking to a person who is sitting beside them, not across the table from them.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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