Regal movie theaters are all about the crown. The royal logo with crown-shaped points can be found on buckets of buttery popcorn and on the lobby ceiling inside the newly renovated Pinnacle theater in Turkey Creek.
A similar shape can be found on the surface of COVID-19, which has forced the Knoxville movie theater chain to keep its doors closed the past five months.
But families, couples and Regal Unlimited passholders set their eyes on the silver screen once again Friday, as Regal reopened two of its Knoxville theaters with plans in place to prevent a possible spread.
Plan ahead for your movie experience
Before walking through the doors Friday afternoon, I loaded the Regal app on my phone to pick out a seat. The company suggests guests book their tickets in advance to avoid lines inside the lobby.
As an Unlimited member, myself, movie options are endless. But Friday’s $5 features focused more on the classics.
“Back to the Future,” “Jaws” and “The Goonies” all were on display for guests to select at the new touch-screen kiosks in the lobby.
Only half the screens were available for the sake of social distancing, and they were frequently sanitized by staff members.
Are we ‘getting back to normal’?
The lines had some delays at first. When guests select a seat, they actually take away multiple chairs for people to choose from.
Part of Regal’s protocols ensures there are two seats between parties, a staff member told me.
But the wait was well worth the reward for many guests. After all, they have been waiting months for this moment.
It’s not like restaurants, New Tazewell resident Misty Brown told me. People have been able to enjoy food from businesses for months through takeout and, more recently, by dining in with distance between tables.
Returning to Regal felt different.
“To me, this feels like we’re getting back to normal,” she said.
Policies in place to protect
Of course, there are people are concerned about safety. But Brown believes you have to trust the businesses you support.
If a business doesn’t have policies in place that protect customers, don’t support that business, she said. Brown feels Regal is taking proper steps to keep everyone safe.
Knoxville resident and former Regal employee Adam Aaron agrees.
“I worked at (a Regal theater) for about five years and got a really intense love for movies, and this is my happy place,” he said. “And all of the stuff I’ve been seeing online — they’re taking extra precautions and trying to keep everybody as safe as possible.”
The remodel ‘doesn’t seem real’
Aaron was able to see those precautions in action Friday, like the obvious mask requirement. That requirement only applies when you’re not eating snacks, though, and what’s a movie without a bucket of popcorn?
Touch-free stations ooze butter onto your treats, while touch-free hand sanitizer stations help clean the butter off your hands and, of course, help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Some areas were closed off, like the bottom of the slide that connects the lobby and upstairs arcade.
“The remodel that they have here is just insane,” Aaron said. “It doesn’t seem real.”
Regal ‘prides itself’ in customer care
When it comes to returning to the movies, Aaron said, the positives outweigh the negatives. And the remodeled theater outweighs any inconvenience caused by safety precautions.
People, for the most part, seemed to be mindful of social distancing and other policies Friday. Although, there surely will be folks who are not comfortable returning to theaters.
If those people are Unlimited members, there’s not too much the company can do.
Passholders are committed to monthly payments for one year at a time, and contracts have been extended by the number of days theaters have been closed, Regal spokesman Richard Grover told me in an email.
Unlimited customers do, however, get a free 30 days before subscriptions reactivate.
“Regal prides itself on taking care of our customers,” Grover said.
The Regal Riviera in downtown Knoxville also reopened Friday. The Cinebarre at West Town Mall and the Downtown West location are scheduled to open Aug. 28.