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New Alton Cinema Could Be A Sign of Post-Pandemic Recovery For Movie Theaters

NCG Cinema
Moviegoers in Alton can fill their own orders for popcorn and drinks instead of waiting for something from behind the counter.

The national movie theater industry is closely monitoring Alton this week.

The eight-screen NCG Cinema at Alton Square Mall will be an indicator of how the industry is rebounding after shutting down during the pandemic. It’s believed to be the first new moviehouse in the country to open during the outbreak.

“I know that there are more to come for sure. But I think we may be the first,” said Chief Executive Officer Jeff Geiger, “and in our conversations with the film distributors in Hollywood - all eyes are on Alton.”

Alton is a bellwether as the North American box office comes off a dreadful year, like many other sectors trying to stay afloat during the pandemic. Some estimates show business at movie theaters was off 80%.

NCG is still fighting its way back. But Geiger points out the expansion into the St. Louis region was planned well before the outbreak and was almost derailed by the coronavirus.

“I'd be lying if I said that there weren't days early on that I wasn't sure if the project was capable of moving forward,” he said. “We stayed the course and we always believed that we would be able to navigate through this.”

Opening during the pandemic is prompting the company to implement safety guidelines in Alton. They include social distancing and keeping masks on while watching movie screens.

 The company has social distancing guidelines in place at the ticket counter and inside each of the eight screen areas.
NCG Cinema
The company has social distancing guidelines in place at the ticket counter and inside each of the eight screen areas.

There are also intense cleaning procedures like disinfecting busy surfaces every half hour.

Those methods are in place at more than 20 other NCG Cinemas, while capacity restrictions depend on local regulations in the nine states where its theaters are located.

The company is not reporting any cases of COVID-19 stemming from of its theaters.

The launch in Alton follows decisions by larger companies to reopen most of their movie theaters including AMC and Marcus, which have locations in the St. Louis region.

It’s also considered a boost for the Illinois city. Officials have been trying for years to attract a theater before landing NCG.

“It gives the public a chance to take a break from the current stress, “ said Alton Mayor Brant Walker. “It also creates dozens of jobs critical to our local economy.”

NCG Cinema Alton has hired 30 people.

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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