AMC Theatres — the nation's largest multiplex operator — is amending its plans for reopening next month, now requiring customers at all its theaters to wear masks. The change came after an outcry against the company for not making it a mandate in the first place.
AMC Theatres noted the backlash Friday over a plan for opening its U.S. locations in July.
"This announcement prompted an intense and immediate outcry from our customers," CEO Adam Aron said in a press release. "It is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks. "
Just a day before, the company had posted a detailed plan to open 450 of its 600-plus U.S. theaters on July 15. Another 150 locations were scheduled to open ahead of two major releases, Disney's live-action Mulan remake and Christopher Nolan's Tenet.
In a lengthy post to its website Thursday, AMC Theatres outlined several measures it will put in place. It will reduce personal contact at concession stands and box offices. The company also said it plans to cap seating at 30% and gradually increase to full capacity by Thanksgiving. Employees will also have to wear masks.
But outside of regions where it's required, guests were only "encouraged" to wear masks under the first set of rules.
Major competitors Regal Cinemas and Cinemark released similar plans.
Aron explained to Variety that the cinema proprietor had hoped to avoid "political controversary."
"We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks," Aron told the industry trade publication. "When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example."
But the attempt to ease through tricky political terrain was for naught. AMC Theatres quickly caught flack on Twitter.
"If I get sick at your theater do you cover funeral costs? I don't see anything on the website about it," entertainment writer Mike Ryan tweeted.
Another tweet, cited in a New York Times article, admonished the company saying, "You should be protecting your customers. Follow the science."
When the company reversed course Friday afternoon, Aron said masks would be for sale at the locations and that "those who are unwilling to wear a mask will not be admitted or allowed to stay."
AMC Theatres, like many theater owners, has been hard hit by coronavirus closures. The company closed more than 1,000 of its theaters in March and reportedly furloughed 600 corporate employees soon afterward.
In public filings this month, the company acknowledged troubled times may still be in store.
"Even when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we cannot guarantee that we will recover as rapidly as other industries," the company said.
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