‘Heyyyyy,’ PJ Cinemas Owner Solomon Talks Reopening

‘Heyyyyy,’ PJ Cinemas Owner Solomon Talks Reopening

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PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station has been closed for over seven months, but now the owner finally has the chance to reopen. Photo by Kyle Barr

After more than seven months being shuttered, PJ Cinemas is looking to have people back in their seats Friday, Oct. 30.

It’s something that’s been a long time coming for Phil Solomon, the owner of the Port Jefferson Station-based theater. The local cinema had to close down in March due to COVID-19. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made the announcement that movie theaters could open again at 25% capacity starting Oct. 23.

Solomon said his theater is going heavy with new filters, including MERV 13 filters, but also new HVAC ductwork units that purifies the air in each individual theater.  

“Not only is it doing what Governor Cuomo has asked but it goes beyond that,” the theater owner said. “We’re doing this to keep the public and especially our staff safe.”

All staff are mandated to wear face masks and face shields. The theater will also be added tempered glass barriers around the box office and concession stands, both on the main floor and upstairs. Each barrier is given a mahogany wood border that Solomon said makes it look like the place “has been built this way.” 

Capacity is limited for each of the seven theater rooms. There will be stanchions to mark which seats are available and which are not. Every other row will be blocked off, and in between showings the occupied row will be sanitized. While each row is cleaned, the seats originally blocked off will be made available for the next showing.

The question of what movies would be available once theaters could reopen was something that has dogged the theater owner for months. However, his booker gave Solomon the good news there were several available, including “Come Play,” “The War with Grandpa,” “Honest Thief,” 

 “Tenet” and “On the Rocks.” He said despite everything it’s a good selection, including a Robert De Nero flick (“Grandpa”), which often gets butts in seats, and Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller (“Tenet”) that originally came out earlier this year, but never aired in New York.

“Right now, product is a big issue because distributors are not moving a lot of the product for six months or a year,” Solomon said. The seventh screen remains unused, and Solomon said they are waiting to see what can be used to fill that space. 

Of course, all this work won’t help unless people come back to the theater. Solomon went by the old proverb of “book it, and they will come,” and he’s “hoping it works now — we’re giving it our best shot.”

It’s been a difficult few months since he was made to close, saying it had been “frightening.” After he closed he had to furlough his workforce. He said he was able to apply for and get a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which he used to pay a few employees and use the rest to pay for intervening costs. Though even if he wanted to open in that time, there were very few new movies coming out to show.

“A hamburger store could be told, ‘OK, you can open,’ and they have hamburgers,” Solomon said. “We were like the hamburger store that had no hamburgers, we would have none to sell to the public.”

Because of the slate of movies on offer, he said it’s working out better than he originally feared. The man is known for recording entertaining voicemail descriptions of each movie on offer when people call up the theater, with his recognizable, “Heeeeyyyy,” being the first thing they hear. Now, moviegoers will get the opportunity to hear it again. The theater purchased large signs to put out on the road to let people know PJ Cinemas is open again. On the front window of the theater there’s now a sign reading “Heyyyyy! Reopening Fri, Oct. 30!”

“The community appreciates us as an asset, and we appreciate the community,” he said.