Montgomery County lifted its order shuttering movie theaters several weeks ago, allowing audiences at limited capacities, but almost all cineplexes remain dark across the county. What's going on? The major sticking point is that the County Council forbid the sales of food and drink at all movie theaters, requiring patrons to remain masked throughout the screening with no refreshments. Theaters make the majority of their profits from these lobby concessions sales, not from the movie tickets themselves.
The announcement that ArcLight Cinemas is closing permanently
at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda brought fresh attention to the state of cinema countywide yesterday. Marquees and screens are still dark, with the notable exception of AMC's theaters at Rio Lakefront and Wheaton Plaza. Major chain theaters like Regal Cinemas, iPic and Landmark are not joining them.
A spokesperson for Cinépolis USA, which opened a theater in the Kentlands area of Gaithersburg only a month before the pandemic hit America, confirmed Tuesday that the County order remains the barrier to reopening. When the ban on food and drink sales is lifted, the Kentlands theater will reopen immediately, the spokesperson said.
It's a dark time, indeed, for movies in Montgomery County. Bethesda is in the worst situation of all. Thanks to the County Council's decision nearly a decade ago to approve demolition of the Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10 without requiring a replacement cineplex, the closures of Regal, ArcLight and AMC Mazza Gallerie give Bethesda the rare distinction of being a large American town without a mainstream cineplex (Landmark Bethesda Row - which also remains closed - does not screen mainstream blockbusters). Some say the age of a night at the movies is over, but Godzilla vs. Kong
box office numbers showed interest in movie theaters remains strong nationally, and worldwide.