The historic Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas opened its doors to movie-goers Friday, Oct. 9, for the first time in nearly seven months.
“It’s so huge,” Carrie Schulstad, executive director of the Downtown Camas Association, said of the theater’s reopening. “We’ve had our restaurants open, but we haven’t had our beloved theater. When I got the news from the governor’s office, I was literally dancing around. It was such a happy moment.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a new round of reopening rules on Oct. 6, which loosened restrictions on everything from movie theaters to libraries.
Under the governor’s new reopening guidelines, theaters are able to have 25 percent occupancy for counties in Phase 2 of Inslee’s Safe Start plan — that includes Clark County and the city of Camas — and 50 percent in Phase 3. Theaters must maintain 6 feet of distance between households and require patrons to wear face coverings at all times when they are not eating or drinking.
The governor’s news caught Liberty Theatre owner Rand Thornsley off guard.
“I was totally surprised,” Thornsley told the Post-Record on Friday. “I didn’t expect to be able to reopen right now.”
Thornsley said he and his three employees scrambled to get ready for the weekend opening, which kicked off with a 4 p.m. matinee showing of the 1985 classic, “The Goonies,” and 7:15 showing of another 1980s cult favorite, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.”
“It’s a whole different ballgame here,” Thornsley said. “It feels like we’re opening for the very first time.”
To make a night out to the movies as safe as possible for patrons and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thornsley has implemented several changes. Movie-goers must wear face coverings at all times in the theater, except when they are taking a drink or eating a snack, and they are not permitted to congregate in the theater’s lobby.
Tickets, which are capped at 75 people per show, will be sold online and come with assigned seating. Movie-goers will line up outside the theater, located on Northeast Fourth Avenue in the heart of historic downtown Camas, and show their online ticket purchase identification at the box office before entering the theater and finding their seats.
Several rows in the theater are roped-off, to help keep movie-goers physically distanced. Once seats are assigned in a row, the theater will implement a buffer of three seats to also help with distancing. People craving popcorn, soda or other concessions can order those items at the box office and theater employees will bring the goodies to a table, located in the rear of the theater, then call for the person to come and retrieve their popcorn, drinks and/or candy.
Thornsley said Friday that the first two shows had nearly sold out. He was pleased, but said Friday that he worried about people getting to the theater on time to find their assigned seats.
“They may have thought, because they purchased tickets online, that they didn’t have to get here early,” Thornsley said. “But it will take longer to do it this way.”
Late movie-goers will not be seated once the lights go down, Thornsley said.
For now, the theater will be open on a limited schedule, with tickets sold online. To learn more, and to see showtimes or purchase tickets, visit camasliberty.com.