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It’s Thursday afternoon at the Grand Lake Theater, and owner Allen Michaan and his crew are putting the finishing touches on the historic movie palace before its grand reopening.
Karely Cerritos, who works at the box office, walks through the glass doors of the theater’s main entrance at 3 p.m. “This is my first day here in a year and a half!”
Out front, Miles McDuffie is replacing the mock movie posters that have been occupying the outdoor displays since last fall with those of real movies—like In the Heights, set for release on June 11—coming soon to the Grand Lake.
McDuffie continues his last-minute prep inside the ticket kiosk, where he puts up colorful signs indicating that masks must be worn at all times (except when eating or drinking). A handful of people begin lining up outside.
Movie-goers returning to the Grand Lake will notice some changes. The theater will be operating at 25% capacity until at least June 15, when California reopens and most COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Even then, said Michaan, the Grand Lake will adhere to whatever guidelines are put in place by the National Association of Theater Owners. “We want people to be safe,” he said.
Patrons can still reserve tickets online and in-person at the box office, but seating within the theater has been spaced to ensure social distancing. The concession stand has been equipped with a plastic divider, and the counters will be wiped down between customers.
During the closure, Michaan was able to work on some remodeling projects, which included a new carpet in the main lobby, fresh paint on the walls of the outer ticket lobby, updated ornamentation, new LED lights, even some much needed plumbing repairs. “We could not have done all this work if the theater would’ve been opened,” Michaan said.
In addition to getting a sneak peek of the theater, The Oaklandside spoke with some of the early birds who’d lined up outside for the first film, a 4 p.m. showing of Disney’s Cruella.
Gabriela Aranda was the first person to get in line. “I’ve been waiting over a year to come back,” she said. “They have the best popcorn in the world and the best crew. It’s like coming home again.”
The Gordons were the first family to walk through the doors and also the first to get snacks at the concession stand. “It feels great to be back like things are getting back to normal,” said the father, Andrew Gordon. “It is the last day of school. This is a treat for our kids,” said mother Kerry Gordon, sitting next to her son Asher and her daughter Ella. “It’s nice to have some normalcy back,” said Ella.
Julie Ingalls was the second person in line behind Aranda, and the two chatted while waiting for the doors to open. “I’m excited beyond words,” said Ingalls, who feels safe being back inside a movie theater. “I’m fully vaccinated, and I like that the theater is keeping people sitting apart.”
For Michaan, reopening has been a long time coming, although there’s still work to be done. “I’ll be happier when we are able to be back at full capacity and not have any distancing,” he said.
The theater is currently operating on a limited schedule and will be open Thursday through Sunday. The theater will also be open this Monday for Memorial Day, which Michaan expects to sell out.
For information on showings and ticket prices, visit Grand Lake Theater’s website.