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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Shared emotional experience’: Movie theaters reopen in Spokane with new procedures and ideas

Matthew Franklin and his girlfriend Katarina Elliott check out what’s playing Tuesday at River Park Square’s AMC in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Matthew Franklin and his girlfriend Katarina Elliott check out what’s playing Tuesday at River Park Square’s AMC in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Garland Theater in Spokane has been operating since 1945 and, though it’s been closed temporarily before, owner Katherine Fritchie said she believes the COVID-related closure has been the theater’s longest in more than 75 years.

As Spokane movie theaters start reopening at 25% capacity under Phase 2 regulations, Fritchie expects hers will be entertaining patrons again in March.

With her business closed, she said she decided to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree. Now juggling coursework and reopening will be a tricky balance.

For a time, she questioned if she’d have to close the doors of her neighborhood theater permanently. She also bounced around the idea of turning it into a live music venue and is still considering a blended model.

“It depends on what’s coming,” Fritchie said. “Time will tell. I don’t know what Hollywood is going to do and there are a lot of streaming options at this point.”

Still, she said she believes getting out and “off the couch” feels special as people return to a sense of normalcy with the vaccine rollout. She said the big screen and surround sound of movie theaters aren’t all that movie goers are seeking.

“It’s seeing something that immerses you in it,” she said. “It’s fun to hear everybody else laughing or crying. It’s a shared emotional experience.”

Like other movie theaters following regulations across Spokane, The Garland will be seating people in every other row, with two seats between groups of viewers.

Armando Escareño, general manager at Village Centre Cinemas at Wandermere, said staff would normally sweep and clean up spills between every showing, but now they will also be sanitizing each used seat with a quick-dry disinfectant formula at the end of each movie. All other high-touch surfaces in the building will be sanitized every half hour, Escareño said.

At The Garland Theater, audiences will benefit from a carbon dioxide sensor, Fritchie said, which brings in fresh air whenever it senses air has been recycled too much.

Escareño said the pause in movie theaters showing new films means that this spring’s opening will offer some movies that are newly released, and some that were released during the pandemic but never got to the big screen.

Movies like “Wonder Woman 1984” premiered on HBO Max temporarily and now will get their theater treatment at the Wandermere theater, Escareño said. The company is also branching out, offering its first showing of an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight March 6.

Next, the theater will be showing a “flashback” series of older hits, he said.

The Wandermere theater, which hasn’t been opened since a three-week period in October and November, will only show movies Friday through Sunday to begin with, he said. During closures, the theater made do by selling popcorn and combinations with movie-themed cups and candy, Escareño said.

Village Centre Cinemas at Wandermere will open Friday. The AMC theater in River Park Square Mall opened last Friday and is showing new releases and fan favorites, according to the corporation’s news release. Guests can also book private showings, according to a news release.

Village Centre Cinemas is showing movies, including the live-action “Tom and Jerry,” the Denzel Washington-starring “The Little Things,” and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” about an FBI agent who infiltrates the Black Panther Party.

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