By Sabrina Artusa
After many gloomy months in quarantine, movie theater-starved citizens can now return to PJ Cinemas.
The Port Jefferson Station-based theater, owned by Phil Solomon, officially reopened May 28 after tentative operation and eventual closure during quarantine.
PJ Cinemas has long been a cornerstone of Port Jefferson life. Many Port Jeffersonians grew up in front of its screens, snacking on popcorn, splurging on candy and laying back in the dimmed theater to enjoy a movie with family and friends.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic suspended its operation, halting these happy excursions. Deprived of their local movie theater, many residents have not seen a film on the big screen in more than 15 months.
Most businesses were affected by the COVID-19 virus, and PJ Cinemas was no exception. Although closing was less than ideal, manager Brian Fiederlein recognized that it was necessary in order to “do our part for the community” and “ensure the safety of the staff as well as the patrons.”
With the worst of the pandemic behind us, Fiederlein is optimistic and excited about reopening. However, the process has not been easy. Seven months after the initiation of quarantine, PJ Cinemas experimented with reopening for a brief time in October, but was forced to close again soon after.
In regards to this latest reopening, Fiederlein said that it is “energizing to get back to working” but the process of getting acclimated to the state guidelines required “a lot of hustle.”
This time around, however, reopening is more promising. Fiederlein said he has a “more solid belief that things are safe.”
In December there was no “light at the end of the tunnel” — vaccinations were not yet released and there was not any indication of the virus alleviating, so remaining open was unsustainable.
Fiederlein feels that he and his staff have a moral obligation to secure the safety of moviegoers.
So, in determining when to reopen, Fiederlein posed the question: “How can we get people back to the movies safely?” Increasing vaccination rates helped answer this question.
The PJ Cinemas staff had several factors to consider in the reopening process: infection rates, hospitalization rates, product and vaccination availability. Presently, the movie theater is under little restriction — patrons can watch a movie mask-free, as long as they are vaccinated.
Since reopening, the theater has been awash in accounts of filmgoers’ excitement to be back. “Every day there are more stories about how long people have been waiting,” Fiederlein said. He added that although incoming business is “nowhere where it was pre-COVID,” he is happy to be “getting excitement back into the place — but also safely.”
“There is a buzz in the community,” Fiederlein said. “It’s good to be back.”