by Terry Rogers
Arthur Helmick, owner of the Movies at Milford under construction in the former Walmart building on North Dupont Highway is enthusiastic about the opening of the theatre. It is his hope that the new movie theatre will be open before the end of the year and is aiming for an opening Thanksgiving weekend.
“We have had some tough times,” Helmick explained. “COVID caused us to shut down our theatres and, even now, we have much smaller audiences than we had in the past. People, especially seniors, are still scared. On top of that, Hollywood just pulled a lot of new movies that would have been great moneymakers, so that doesn’t help. However, even with all the setbacks, we are moving forward and I don’t see any reason why we cannot be open by the end of the year.”
Helmick stated that the COVID-19 pandemic put them behind about a month. Even though the construction trades did not shut down, there was a need for social distancing which meant trades could not have 50 workers inside the building at one time. They had to use smaller crews and this led to longer periods between each stage of completion.
“We also had difficulty getting some materials during the pandemic,” Helmick said. “If we had to get something from overseas, it was almost impossible. We are meeting on Thursday to talk about the final certificate of occupancy and if that goes well, opening at Thanksgiving is very much doable.”
One of the issues Helmick sees is making sure people know that going to the movies is one of the safest activities you can do during the pandemic. They are practicing all COVID-19 protocols, including ample hand-washing stations throughout the theatre. Patrons are asked to wear a mask to their seat and while they are eating. When they are not eating, they are asked to put their masks back on simply to avoid forgetting it if they need to leave their seat. Helmick explained that the computer system used in the theatre will automatically socially distance groups as they purchase tickets.
“If two people come in, the system blocks their two seats and then several on each side of them,” Helmick said. “A group of three, they will be seated together and then seats around them blocked. The system is set up to do that for us. Our bathrooms are already heavily sanitized as people eat in our movie theatres. We want them as clean as possible. Our theatre is cleaned each night by a company that also cleans doctor’s offices. That means they use the same anti-bacterial soap that is used in healthcare settings.”
In addition to sanitizing and social distancing, Helmick stated that theatres already have extremely efficient HVAC systems. He explained that when there are 300 to 600 people sitting in a theatre with the doors closed and no windows, there is a need to regularly bring in fresh air. The air must be treated to avoid damage to the HVAC equipment as well. Helmick explained that the HVAC system they use is just “one step below what is used in hospitals.”
“We want people to know the movies are a safe environment,” Helmick said. “When you go to the movies, you use all your senses. You use sight, hearing, taste, smell and even your emotions can be impacted depending on the movie. We want everyone to know that our theatres are clean, friendly and the perfect place to spend an afternoon or evening. New movies tend to be released around Christmas time and it is our goal to be open to show those movies this year.”
The Movies at Milford will only use half the former Walmart building and Helmick said the other half has not been rented at this time. Because of the pandemic, he felt it better to just wait to search for a tenant.