Rules released by city officials Monday restrict movie theaters to 25 percent of capacity and prohibit selling concessions. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Theaters turn down chance to reopen due to ‘insurmountable’ restrictions

City rules limit movie houses to 25 percent of capacity, ban sale of concessions

The magic of the silver screen may not come alive just yet in San Francisco, even though The City on Wednesday allowed movie theaters to resume operations.

The National Association of Theatre Owners of California/Nevada announced Wednesday that their members in San Francisco have decided to remain shuttered due to ongoing restrictions.

The Department of Public Health issued health rules Wednesday for movie theaters that included a limit of no more than 25 percent of capacity or 100 persons, whichever is fewer, and a ban on sales of concessions.

The theater owners group said that while it was “grateful that San Francisco city officials are reopening theatres in The City, their proposed solution makes it economically impossible for our members to reopen and significantly limits the moviegoing experience for our audiences.”

The group includes the Metreon, Alamo Drafthouse, Kabuki 8, Cinemark’s Century 9 San Francisco Centre, Cine Arts @ Empire, Embarcadero Center Cinema, Opera Plaza and Regal’s Stonestown, according to a spokesperson with the association.

Owner of the Castro Theatre Steve Nasser agreed with the group’s sentiment.

“As you may know we are a 1,400 seat auditorium and it’s simply not practical to operate successfully under the current guidelines that limit capacity to 100 guests,” Nasser said in an email to the San Francisco Examiner. “Pre-Covid most of our events were targeted to 500-1000 guests so the current regulations present a significant change. Having said this, we don’t like having a closed business and want to reopen as soon as it’s feasible.”

Movie theaters in San Francisco employ around 5,000 people.

The theaters are calling on San Francisco to follow guidelines allowed by the state now that The City is in the “orange” tier status, which permit movie theaters to operate at 50 percent capacity or up to 200 people, whichever is fewer, and allow for the sale of concessions.

“Forty counties in California in addition to others around the country have reopened theaters per state guidelines with full concession sales,” the statement said.

The group also noted that San Francisco has allowed indoor dining in restaurants.

“While we respect and thank Mayor Breed for her decision to allow movie theatres to reopen, the restrictions in place present an insurmountable financial challenge for our members to do so and are preventing thousands of workers from returning to work,” Milton Moritz, President and CEO of NATO of CA/NV, said in a statement. “Our members have taken the steps to meet or exceed expert-backed health and safety measures, and we ask that The City reconsider its reopening plan so our theaters can, once again, serve our San Francisco community.”

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