Manor Theatre reopens with new renovations

Manor+Theatre%2C+a+popular+movie+theater+in+Squirrel+Hill%2C+reopened+Aug.+28+after+being+closed+since+mid-March.

Dalia Maeroff | Senior Staff Photographer

Manor Theatre, a popular movie theater in Squirrel Hill, reopened Aug. 28 after being closed since mid-March.

By Annabelle Walter, For The Pitt News

Going to the movies used to be a fun weekend pastime, with exciting plots and fresh, buttery popcorn.

But for months, this hasn’t been the case. Instead, people have watched movies on smaller screens at home, without the much-loved camaraderie of going to see a movie in the theater.

Manor Theatre, a popular theater on Squirrel Hill’s Murray Avenue, reopened Aug. 28 after closing in mid-March. According to Rick Stern, the Manor’s owner, that closure was the first in decades for the theater.

“The Manor hasn’t been closed since I first took over in 1992,” Stern said. “It’s been open 365 days a year.”

Guests and patrons are still attending the theater’s showings, though in smaller numbers than before the pandemic.

“People are coming, but business is not as brisk as it used to be,” Stern said.

Still, Stern said because the theater opened so recently, he doesn’t know whether the lull in ticket sales indicates a larger trend.

We’ve only been open for a little over a week now, so I don’t have a lot of historical attendance records since we reopened after being closed since mid-March,” Stern said.

One returning moviegoer is Jaden McMillian, a senior architecture major who saw the new movie “Tenet” at the Manor on Sept 4. McMillian said he thought “a pretty decent amount of people” were in the theater with him, but not as many as there would have been before COVID-19.

According to McMillian, he decided to go to the Manor because he missed the experience of a movie theater, which he said he tried to make up for over the summer by going to a drive-in.

“I just really wanted to see a new movie for once,” McMillian said.

Moviegoers can now reserve tickets online ahead of time on the Manor’s website, forgoing the typical theater experience of waiting in lines with other guests and purchasing tickets from employees at the box office.

This allows the theater to implement social distancing protocols — spacing out guests, limiting contact between moviegoers and employees and keeping all theaters under 25% capacity, according to the Manor’s spokesperson, Dan Ayer.

Ayer also said the theater has taken new safety measures since reopening two weeks ago.

“We’ve increased sanitation, added contactless tickets and reduced our capacity. All employees have to get temperature checks,” Ayer said. “We’re asking that no one attend if they or anyone they know has had contact with someone with COVID in the past 14 days or if they have any COVID symptoms.”

McMillian said with reduced ticketing and limited capacity, he felt safe seeing a movie at the theater.

“I felt like the Manor did a good job at making [social distancing] possible,” McMillian said. “I felt pretty secure.”

Stern explained that most employees were furloughed while the Manor was closed. After reopening, however, many of the employees were asked back.

During the theater’s unplanned hiatus, Stern did a large renovation of the theater, taking advantage of the extra time to beautify the building. The renovations include new carpeting, a redone seating area and bathrooms and the installation of touch-free faucets and dryers to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect potential moviegoers and employees.

All moviegoers must also wear masks inside the theater at all times, unless eating food purchased at the Manor’s concession stand.

Some of those returning to the theaters are college students. Stern said students can purchase discounted tickets any day, paying $8.50 instead of the typical $10 for an adult ticket. But these prices aren’t a product of the COVID-19 pandemic — Stern said student tickets have been discounted for years, and discount Wednesdays have always been popular.

Stern said the first weeks since the theater’s reopening have been a chance for patrons to test whether or not they’re comfortable returning to the movies.

“People are sticking their toe in the water and coming back slowly,” he said. “People that are coming are feeling safe and enjoying being back at the theater and seeing the presentation on the big screen.”

For students interested in going back to the movies safely, the Manor may be an option here in Pittsburgh.

“We have a nice crowd of folks coming into the theater,” Ayer said. “Our goal is that there are no additional spikes or issues.”

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