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Many Portland Movie Theaters Are Approaching Reopening Tentatively. Living Room Theaters Dove Right In.

The small downtown theater has welcomed back guests for three weeks, albeit at greatly diminished capacity—admittance for each screening room is capped at six.

WW presents “Distant Voices,” a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they’re doing during quarantine.

A few weeks ago, Multnomah County's official coronavirus status moved from "extreme risk" to "high risk," allowing for the return of one small piece of pre-pandemic normalcy: watching movies in an actual movie theater.

In theory, at least. The week the order went into effect, Portland was further paralyzed by a snowstorm. And besides, many smaller theaters—including Laurelhurst, Hollywood and Cinema 21—had already opted to take a wait-and-see approach and stay closed.

Not Living Room Theaters, though.

Within hours of the governor's announcement, the Florida-based arthouse mini-chain mailed out screening times for its downtown location. Snowstorm aside, the theater has welcomed back guests for three weeks, albeit at greatly diminished capacity—admittance for each screening room is capped at six. (Theaters were also initially prohibited from selling concessions, a restriction that has since been lowered.)

Showings have been selling out, but within those parameters, business could hardly be considered "booming." For Living Room CEO Steve Herring, though, it's a lot better than nothing.

Last summer, Herring joined a coalition of Oregon theater owners lobbying Gov. Kate Brown to let them operate under Phase 1 reopening guidelines. (At the time, theaters could only reopen in Phase 2 counties.) Now that he's got his wish, WW checked back in with Herring to see how it's going, and why he felt confident reopening when many other theaters did not.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.