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Avon Cinema resumes showings after ‘brief intermission’

Decades-old cinema on Thayer Street reopens with social distancing, mask guidelines following closure due to COVID-19 pandemic

Since Aug. 28, film buffs have been able to return to the Avon Cinema to watch the latest motion pictures in person. The 80-year-old independent theater recently opened its doors to the public after a five-month hiatus.

The theater has implemented a series of safety measures, including newly installed Plexiglas partitions, hand sanitizer dispensers and an updated regimen for janitorial staff as well as strict social distancing and face mask requirements.

When audiences enter the cinema, they are greeted with a sign of safety guidelines written by the Avon’s owners Richard and Kenny Dulgarian. The sign asks all customers to follow the red decals on the lobby floor and stand at least six feet apart from each other. They must enter the theater wearing a mask but can take it off once they are seated. Disposable face masks and hand sanitizer are also available for customers who do not bring their own.

The theater closed on March 17 following an announcement by Richard Dulgarian on the Avon’s website and social media. “What we all do in the next few weeks is going to be important,” Dulgarian wrote in an Instagram post. “In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, we must all begin a period of social distancing and continue to follow recommendations of public health officials.” The Avon closed after Governor Raimondo implemented a quarantine and stay-at-home order March 9. Although the lockdown period was longer than anticipated, the theater complied with public health recommendations and only reopened after it put new protocols in place that ensured the safety of employees and audience members. 

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The Avon Cinema has resumed movie screenings with new safety guidelines in place. The theater closed in March due to the pandemic.[/caption] 

“The governor allowed Rhode Island cinemas to reopen in July, but we waited until August to allow time to install sneeze guards in the lobby, block off seats in the auditorium and position hand sanitizer dispensers,” Richard Dulgarian said. “Employees must wear face masks and vinyl gloves, and … after every show we sanitize seats and armrests, plus all the other areas that might have been in contact with the patrons,” he added.

During the statewide lockdown, the Avon celebrated its 82nd anniversary with an optimistic message on its marquee: “We will be back after a brief intermission.” The owners also continued to post on the cinema’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and mounting Black Lives Matter protests, the Avon sought to keep the community alive with movie recommendations to “celebrate the talents and power of Black people while showcasing the hard truths of racial injustice,” Richard Dulgarian said. 

Since its reopening, the Avon has featured films such as “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” “The Nest” and “Kajillionaire,” and is now screening Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks,” starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray.

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When audiences enter the cinema, they are greeted with a sign of safety guidelines written by the Avon’s owners.[/caption] 

After attending a recent showing of “On the Rocks,” first-time Avon patron Ben Konicov said that “it wasn’t your typical movie theater experience,” but that it was refreshing to see a movie “on the big screen rather than (his) 13-inch laptop.”

Richard Dulgarian said that “attendance is down compared to pre-COVID.” But he added that the Avon grossed the highest revenue from “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” its first offering since reopening, out of the 20 other movie theaters playing the film in the area. 

Returning to the theater for the first time since it closed in March, regular customers Dan and Debra Caudin remarked that they both felt safe and gratified by the experience. “There was plenty of room,” Debra Caudin said. “We didn’t feel anxious at all,” Dan Caudin added. “All the seats were marked … Everyone wears their mask coming in, but it was nice to be able to take the mask off before the movie. I thought that was more comfortable,” he said. 

Debra Caudin said that, while the two watched and enjoyed a number of movies at home during the quarantine, “we missed that shared experience.” 

“There’s something special about watching a movie in the theater,” Dan Caudin added. “The tension is better, the focus is sharper,” he said.

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Patrons must wear a mask when they enter the theater and purchase concessions, but can remove their mask when they reach their seat.[/caption] 

“Reopening after COVID has not been too difficult,” Richard Dulgarian said. While turnout was initially slow, it “has increased every week as people learn about the safety protocols in place,” he added. The goal, ultimately, is to allow audiences to “rediscover the joy of experiencing a movie in person.” 

Rich Sweat, College Hill resident and Avon regular, said that only about 15 people attended the 3:40 pm showing he saw on Indigenous Peoples Day “less business than they normally get for a holiday matinee.”

“I’ve seen every movie since they’ve reopened,” Sweat said. “I try my best to support our local businesses. So many have closed since March. I’d hate to see this one go.” He mentioned that he had donated some money to the Avon in the interval and “was anxious for it to reopen.” 

“It’s good to be back,” Sweat added. “So far so good.”


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