David Daigle, a manager for Smitty’s Cinemas, cleans counter seating in a theater in Windham on Tuesday in preparation for reopening. The theater chain’s managers have taken COVID-19 safety training courses.  Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

Maine movie theaters will finally start lighting up their screens after four months of darkness, with several planning to reopen next week and others later this month.

Smitty’s Cinemas in Windham, Topsham and Sanford plan to open July 17, while Nickelodeon Cinemas in downtown Portland is hoping to open that same date or a week later. Cinemagic, which has theaters in Saco, South Portland and Westbrook, is planning to start reopening theaters on July 24. The company, which also owns theaters in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, did not say Tuesday when its Maine venues would open.

Theater operators said Tuesday they know getting people to come back to the movies will be a challenge. Hollywood is not yet releasing many new films, including the usual summer blockbusters meant to attract audiences. Plus, they know not everyone will feel safe sitting in a theater with others, even if the state is limiting audience capacity to 50, requiring groups to be seated 6 feet apart and mandating masks for viewers not munching on popcorn.

“I’m not planning to go back right away, I think I’ll hold back and see how things work out,” said Kimberly Burns of South Portland, who normally goes to the movies about twice a month. “For me, it’s not about the precautions the theater takes, it’s about sharing air with strangers and not knowing what precautions they take.”

Other theaters in Maine have not yet announced reopening plans, including Flagship Cinemas – with locations in Auburn, Falmouth, Oxford, Thomaston, Waterville and Wells – as well as the Regal movie theaters in Brunswick and Augusta and The Nordica Theater in Freeport. None of those businesses returned calls, emails and Facebook messages asking for reopening information. Regal, a large national chain, had announced previously it would begin opening its theaters July 31.

Movie theaters were among businesses the state allowed to reopen July 1, along with amusement and water parks, bowling alleys and performing arts venues. Some of the nation’s largest movie chains, including AMC and Cinemark, have announced they’ll begin reopening theaters by the end of July. Neither has theaters in Maine.

Because Hollywood has postponed many of its scheduled summer releases until at least August, when more theaters are likely to be open nationally, Maine theaters planning to open in July say they may show “classic” movies and older fan favorites to try to attract audiences. Some are also considering lowering prices, and all encourage buying tickets ahead of time online.

The Nickelodeon is considering showing the 1993 blockbuster “Jurassic Park” and charging $5 for all seats instead of the normal $10, said David Scott, the general manager. Smitty’s is also considering “Jurassic Park,” as well as the 1975 summertime classic “Jaws” and some classic Disney films and newer, lesser-known movies, said Al Waitt, director of operations. Waitt also said Smitty’s will likely charge $4 to $5 per person at first, compared to the normal $10.

David Daigle, a manager at Smitty’s Cinemas, cleans drinking fountains Tuesday at the Windham location in preparation for a reopening planned July 17. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

In a news release Tuesday, Cinemagic announced prices would be $5 for the classic films to be shown in the first week of operation, but did not name the films. The Cinemagic theaters would likely be able to show new movies July 31 or later, including the thriller “Unhinged” with Russell Crowe, and the spy film “Tenet,” the release said.

The release said “some” of the eight Cinemagic locations in New England would open July 24, but did not say which ones. Zachary Adam, the marketing director for Cinemagic, declined to say when the Maine Cinemagic locations might open.

For some theater owners, reopening with very small crowds to show older movies would not be worth the expense and effort. Shaun Boyle runs the 74-seat Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick and has no plan to reopen. To keep people 6 feet apart, he’d be able to seat only about 14 people, more if people came in groups of two or three. He also feels conflicted about masks. He thinks everyone should wear them in public, but knows people will take them off to eat while watching a film.

“As long as there’s nothing new to show, I have no immediate plans to try to reopen,” said Boyle. “If I do reopen, it might be without concessions.”

Smitty’s theaters are “dine-in cinemas,” serving a full range of food and drink, and are a little easier to configure for social distancing, said Waitt, because people sit at tables that can be separated. The capacity in Windham is usually 180, Waitt said, so 50 people spaced appropriately will work easily.

All the theaters reopening said they will focus on sanitizing and cleaning seats and surfaces, while also putting up signs and directions that enforce social distancing.

Traci Hodges, a manager at Smitty’s Cinemas in Windham, cleans theater seats Tuesday. Smitty’s director of operations said capacity in Windham is usually 180 people so the theater can easily space out 50 people appropriately.  Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

At Smitty’s, Waitt said, the theaters will use plastic silverware and disposable menus. He said managers have taken COVID-19 safety training courses offered by Hospitality Maine and others.

At Cinemagic, employees will undergo daily health screenings, wear masks and work behind shields placed at counters and concession stands.

The pandemic has left most movie theaters without income for months. Scott, at the Nickelodeon, doesn’t think theaters will make much money until new films are released. But he feels it’s important for his theater to reopen now and start putting in place the precautions and methods that will earn audience trust.

“Opening in July allows us to get up and running, clean everything and know what we’re doing before the big movies come out,” said Scott.

Traci Hodges, left, Tracy Lambert and David Daigle clean the concessions counter at Smitty’s Cinemas in Windham in preparation for reopening July 17. Theater operators said know that getting people to come back to the movies will be a challenge. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

Smitty’s already had to close one of its locations, in Biddeford in May, because of financial losses during the pandemic. Making money at the other locations, with a limited capacity, safety costs and a wary public, will be challenging, Waitt said.

“The most important thing is to keep our customers and staff safe. If people come out and see how safe it is, then hopefully the next time they won’t hesitate to see a movie,” said Waitt.

But Susan Rooker of South Portland said Tuesday that only a vaccine for COVID-19 would make her feel completely safe in a movie theater. For now, she’ll use the money she would have spent on movie tickets to stream films at home and get takeout food.

“Testing should be free and ubiquitous. It’s not, yet,” said Rooker. “Someone may have COVID-19 but unknowingly pass it along to the theater. I don’t want to bring that home.”

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