In response to rising COVID cases around Massachusetts, the governor has imposed new restrictions in an effort to “slow the spread.”
The new restrictions, which include a stay-at-home advisory between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and a 9:30 curfew for restaurants, theaters, casinos and “virtually anything that’s an entertainment venue,” went into effect late last week. Restaurants, however, can remain open after 9:30 p.m. for takeout and delivery services.
“As the people of Massachusetts have done before, they need to once again participate in the hard work to protect our commonwealth,” Gov. Charlie Baker said earlier this month. “That means changing our behavior and putting our guard back where it belongs, which is up.”
The new restrictions also require mask wearing in public for anyone 5 years of age or older — regardless of whether social distancing is possible.
For at least one local business owner, the new restrictions appear “counter-productive.”
“… To set a curfew on (a business) … what it does is it pushes people like a funnel to the hours you are open,” said Isaac Mass, owner of Garden Cinemas on Main Street in Greenfield. “What you’re in fact doing is creating a greater density, which is more dangerous, not less dangerous.”
Since the Garden Cinema reopened in July, business has been relatively slow, Mass said, with an average of four to 10 people at a show — sometimes as few as two people.
In Athol, general manager Aleesha Watson of Athol Cinemas 8, is seeing a similar trend.
“We can only do 50 percent capacity, but we’re not even getting closet to that,” Watson said.
So for cinemas in particular, Mass said, the new restrictions will result in a “significant hardship.”
“We’ve had to cancel late evening shows on Friday and Saturday night, and reduce and restructure our schedule to ensure all shows get out by 9:30,” he said. “… This is a significant hardship to the theater because Friday and Saturday evenings are our best show times, our most popular show times.”
Unlike retail establishments, he said, where the cost of certain items is the same throughout the day, matinees aren’t as profitable to a cinema as evening showings.
“We’re losing premium revenue at our most popular time,” Mass said, noting he will have to be more selective about the movies he brings in to ensure the cinema meets its license fees for a film.
Nearby, the 9:30 p.m. curfew for restaurants led to Hangar Pub and Grille in Greenfield cutting back its dine-in hours and extending its takeout hours, which would typically end at the same time as indoor dining, according to Alyssa Raples, a manager at the restaurant on Federal Street.
“We’re trying to accommodate the patrons that maybe get out of work late,” Raples said.
Takeout and delivery is now available Sunday through Wednesday until 10 p.m. and Thursday through Sunday until 11 p.m. Indoor dining, however, closes at 9:30 p.m.
Raples declined to comment on whether she felt the state’s measures were an effective tool to curbing the spread.
“What we are trying to do is make sure our patrons still have access to our food, while also making sure their safety and health are our main priority,” she said.
At the Garden Cinema, Mass said that with the cinema’s existing protocols — every other row is blocked off, masks are required whenever a patron is not seated — going to the cinema is “the safest activity” one could do during a pandemic.
“What we’ve done for a hundred years is teach people that silence is golden at the theater,” he said. “The activity that passes the virus most actively is yelling and singing. At a movie theater, people don’t talk during a movie. And if they do, they’re talking to a person whose sitting beside them, not across the table from them.”
Mary Byrne can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne