Plaza Theatre

By John Ruch and Collin Kelley

Local movie theaters and bowling alleys are joining the voices of concern about health and financial risks of Gov. Brian Kemp’s surprise order that they and certain other types of businesses shuttered for the pandemic can reopen within days.

Plaza Theatre owner Christopher Escobar said in a statement posted on Facebook that he won’t be reopening the historic Poncey-Highland venue.

Escobar said: “While we’ve been hurting being closed, this certainly comes as a rather last-minute surprise. I honestly didn’t think we would be allowed to re-open until June. While nothing would make me happier than all of this being over and getting the “all clear,” other than there being political pressure, I haven’t seen anything of the sort. I have only seen the first sign that cases and deaths in Georgia are just barely starting to level off—much less go down–but I’m not a public health expert. I just know I’m not getting an indication from actual public health experts that re-opening is a good idea.”

Escobar said he was concerned that promised relief dollars would suddenly disappear now that cinemas were being “allowed” to reopen. In the meantime, Escobar said the Plaza is moving towards opening its own digital platform for patrons to stream movies at home and setting up a drive-in theatre as well.

Brandt Gully, owner of the independent The Springs Cinema & Taphouse theater in Sandy Springs, said he was “just kind of stunned and not sure what to make of it” and that “it doesn’t feel right” to reopen. It also doesn’t make sense in the most basic way, Gully said: “One of the issues, and it’s not the main issue, but we don’t have content. There are no new movies.”

“It honestly — it really puts us in a tough position,” Gully said about Kemp’s announcement. “I’m sure there’s intent there for the government to throw us a lifeline here and allow us to reopen. But truthfully, I don’t really like the position I’m in. I closed before I was required to close for the same reason I likely won’t open when I’m allowed to open.”

“Obviously, I have some significant concern over opening, and I think for certain we wouldn’t be opening on Monday,” said Gully, who closed the doors of his theater on March 17.

Justin Amick

Justin Amick, president and CEO of the company that operates Buckhead’s Painted Pin and the Westside’s Painted Duck high-end bowling parlors, also expressed surprise and concern. “Although I couldn’t be happier to have bowling solidified as one of life’s most essential needs, I’m surprised by the accelerated timeline to be able to reopen our doors to the public,” he said.

Justin Amick elaborated on the concerns in a joint statement with his father Bob Amick, owner of the Concentric Restaurants group, which includes TWO Urban Licks, Bully Boy and Parish.

“We are scared to death about the new norms, strict limitations and guidelines that will make it impossible to be financially viable,” the Amicks said. “A rushed reopening could be the nail in the coffin for many companies. We won’t risk the safety of our staff, families and patrons, as their well-being is of the utmost importance.”

They join some other local restaurant owners who said they have no plans to reopen their dining rooms on April 27 as allowed in Kemp’s reopening order.

Kemp’s shelter-in-place order remains in effect through April 30, during which people are supposed to going out only for necessities. And while business re-openings are voluntary,  it is unclear whether it will generate economic pressure to do so.

The Amicks are among local business owners who say that reopening under pandemic safety limits could mean taking on full, normal expenses but only a limited way to make money.

“We can’t wait to get back to work, but the decision feels premature,” said Bob Amick in a written statement. “Small businesses, including restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, are currently fighting for their lives due to the nationwide forced closures. On one hand, we need to be open to be able to survive, but we only have one opportunity to get it right, there are no second chances.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.