The projectors at Carlsbad’s lone movie theater could soon whir back to life as the La Cueva 6 planned to reopen this month in response to the community’s recovery from COVID-19.
Owner of the La Cueva Allen Theaters closed all its New Mexico locations in March 2020 when coronavirus first struck the state and movie theaters were ordered to close as restrictions were placed on high-contact businesses and public gatherings.
The State of New Mexico then implemented a tiered system of restrictions, assigning counties color-based designations based on positive cases of the virus per capita and the rate of infections reported.
In southeast New Mexico, Eddy, Lincoln and Chaves counties recently improved to below both the 8 cases per capita and 5 percent positivity rate benchmarks to attain green status, meaning Allen Theaters locations in those counties could open at a limited capacity.
Otero remained in yellow as of Friday, further delaying its theater’s opening.
But Allen Theaters hoped to exercise caution in reopening by waiting until counties achieve a turquoise rating by remaining in green for two straight weeks.
Co-owner Russel Allen confirmed the Carlsbad and Ruidoso theaters were planned to reopen on April 23, granted they maintain their COVID-19 status, while the Roswell theater was slated for a reopening on April 16.
No dates were set for Las Cruces and Alamogordo theaters as of Friday, Allen said, as Otero and Dona Ana counties were still in yellow.
For the first few weeks of reopening, theaters will show movies only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays.
Allen said the first theater-exclusive release will be Quiet Place 2 on Memorial Day, but until then the theaters will screen past popular releases like Wonder Woman 2, The Croods or Tenant.
“You can’t have a business if it’s not open and you can’t have customers if it’s not open. We know our customers are looking and we miss them. We hope that the movies that come out in the next six weeks are movies people want to watch,” he said.
“If the cases continue to do what they’re supposed to do and those restrictions continue to get reduced, there’s still a bit of a grey cloud, but we’re doing what we can.”
Seeing movies on the big screen is vastly superior to home watching, Allen said, and cinemas provide a chance for people to vacate the struggles of the real world, especially during difficult times.
No time has been harder in recent memory than the COVID-19 crisis, he said, and he hoped as movie theaters reopen, people will resume enjoying the multi-sensory solace they’ve long provided.
“We historically have been a very emotional release for communities. It’s the opportunity to leave reality and go into a different world, under the sea, in space and be able to escape your everyday life,” Allen said.
“It’s been a really rough year. Movies have been a way to help people get through tough times. We haven’t been there but we’re hoping to resume that service to the community.”
When Allen Theaters closed its locations across New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona for about a year amid the pandemic, Allen said the company had layoff up to 450 employees, and spent “millions and millions” of dollars being closed.
He said the theaters are going to begin calling back managers and hiring in local communities in the coming weeks.
Theaters average about 10-25 workers based on size, Allen said.
“It was good business in knowing to save money for a rainy day is how we survived. We prepared well. We’re just happy the day has finally come,” he said. “Now, we got to get back to work. There’s a lot of energy running through our office right now.”
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway applauded the coming reopening as a sign that the Carlsbad community and New Mexico were showing signs of recovery from the year-long pandemic and economic shutdown.
He said all places of businesses should be allowed to reopen, provided they use proper COVID-19 protocols.
“We welcome the re-opening of the La Cueva 6 in Carlsbad and don’t see why the theater, or any other place of business, should not be able to re-open, provided the appropriate COVID-19 safety measures are in place,” Janway said.
“We are very optimistic about this phase of the recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our positivity rate and the number of cases every day have continued to stay low, and the vaccine clinics have been going very well.”
Janway reported almost 30 percent of Eddy County residents had at least one of two needed doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
State records show about 46 percent of residents statewide received the first dose, while Eddy County had about 28 percent.
Chaves County was at about 30 percent, with Otero County at 32 percent and Dona Ana 39 percent.
“We believe Carlsbad residents are generally doing a good job in terms of following COVID-19 protocols overall, but we all have room for improvement,” he said.
Janway said that while Carlsbad’s local economy appeared on a path to recovery, threats remained from actions at the federal level by the administration of President Joe Biden, who upon assuming the office took steps to slow oil and gas production in an effort to mitigate pollution and climate change.
An ongoing halt on new federal oil and gas leases was particularly troubling, Janway said.
“Full economic recovery is another challenge. We’re seeing more business in Carlsbad, but President Biden’s remaining restrictions on drilling on federal land presents a looming threat that may greatly impede on Carlsbad and New Mexico’s recovery,” he said.
“We all need to continue to do everything we can to support our local businesses, who bore much more than their share of last year’s many setbacks.”
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Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.