Golden Star Theaters Renovates for Social Distancing

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — “It’s the new normal” might be the buzz phrase, but the entertainment business is yearning for the good old days. 

Those who make a living bringing people together for theater, music and comedy are eager to get back to some semblance of the way it was before the COVID-19 shutdown

The Business Journal checked in with five of the more unique, if not iconic, Valley venues and stores to see how they are faring and what they see down the road.

The five – The Youngstown Playhouse, Westside Bowl, The Record Connection, the Funny Farm and Golden Star Theaters – represent different genres of entertainment but all depend on getting people through their doors. Each has its own set of problems and all see a troubled path going forward. 

Movie theater operators nationwide have set their sights on July 17 as the target date for reopening. That’s when Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending action flick “Tenet” is scheduled for release.

But while theater chain operators large and small are eyeing the date, they know nothing is certain.

The coronavirus pandemic has been like a disaster flick that came true for the industry, which has been shut down for six weeks and counting.

Golden Star Theatres is a regional chain with three multiplexes in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

Frank Moses, president of the New Castle, Pa., company, says making customers feel safe and comfortable will be the key when theaters finally reopen. Seating capacity will likely be reduced due to social distancing measures and disinfection will be front and center.

“At first, [patrons] will be cautious but I think they will get a level of comfort over time,” Moses said. 

To ease fears, Golden Star is contemplating a concierge at each theater, who will walk patrons to their seats and wipe them down with disinfectant before they sit.

“The labor cost will be higher but it is needed,” Moses said.

Shields are being installed at the concession stands as another measure. “the goal is to keep customers and employees safe,” Moses said.

Golden Star owns the former Regal Cinemas facility in Austintown, which has been closed for renovations since its purchase a few months ago; Shenango Valley Cinemas in Hermitage, Pa.; Westgate Cinemas in New Castle, Pa.; and multiplexes in suburban Pittsburgh and La Vale, Md.

Moses expects Ohio to phase in movie theaters ahead of Pennsylvania, which has been harder hit by the virus, especially in the Philadelphia area. But Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf could open up counties in the western part of the state sooner, he said.

Golden Star has laid off about 150 employees, all of whom are part-time.

During the shutdown, Hollywood has been releasing movies straight to homes, and delaying the release of others. Moses notes that some smaller movies have always gone straight to video, and he expects that practice to continue after the shutdown ends.

Golden Star made the most of the shutdown by renovating the former Regal Austintown, which it acquired in December 2019.

“The film industry will seek a happy medium. Some movies will be released [to homes] but not the tentpoles,” Moses said, referring to the blockbuster films that generate the lion’s share of profit for studios.

The summer film season was to begin April 24 with the release of the Marvel superhero flick “Black Widow,” which has been delayed until November.

“[Distributors] are pushing back the calendar,” Moses said. “It is all still fluid.”

Release dates are tentatively set a year or two in advance. The calendar is currently being rearranged to squeeze in movies that have been delayed.

The shutdown has given Golden Star time to renovate its Austintown property. The 10-screen multiplex is getting a complete makeover, with the addition of luxury seating and a new concession area, with alcohol sales.

A skeleton construction crew has been making some progress but Moses said the pace of work will pick up when the state gives the green light. Opening is anticipated for July or August. The plush, reclining seats, with wide armrests, will be better for social distancing, Moses said. The new seats are so large compared to the old seats, that capacity will be reduced by about two-thirds.

The Austintown facility currently has a total of close to 2,000 seats in its 10 auditoriums. When it reopens, total capacity will be around 700, with each auditorium ranging in size from 50 to 150 seats, Moses said.

Pictured above: Golden Star Theatres is a regional chain with three multiplexes in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

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Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.