Reopening Texas: Movie theater steps into spotlight, among the first to reopen in Houston area

FRIENDSWOOD – The lights, camera and popcorn machines are back in action at the Star Cinema Grill at Baybrook Mall.

This is the first Houston owned-and-operated movie theater to reopen after forced a shutdown seven weeks ago amid COVID-19 concerns. Those who showed up said they were ready for a change of pace.

"I'm so bored inside," said Samantha Losoyo. "I'm just excited to get out, and we're ready to be out. Be social, but be safe."

The movie theatre is drawing customers without any new releases, showing old favorites like Harry Potter, Beverly Hills Cop, and Saving Private Ryan. But when customers arrive, they will notice changes, for example, the staff.

"Everybody's wearing a mask," said Jason Petro, director of talent development for Star Cinema Grill. "All of our staff members are screened whenever they come in, filling out a questionnaire to ensure that they're not showing symptoms."

The movie experience is now cashless to further reduce the potential spread of the virus. Customers also purchase tickets through an app, which automatically determines social distancing spacing in each theater.

"That allows for a two-seat buffer on either side of any seats that are purchased," Petro said.

The bar and lounge areas also have been spaced out to allow for proper social distancing. Managers feel they were poised for success by the nature of the moviegoing experience.

"We're already set up in a way that is a bit more spacious than even retail stores," Petro said. "A lot of what we already do was set up for social distancing in many instances, anyhow."

Star Cinema Grill is serving as a test case of sorts. Managers said representatives from three movie theater chains drove in on Friday from other parts of the state to witness this reopening. They will use what they learn to gauge when they might be able to reopen.

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