Athena Grand Movie Theater Languishes Amidst COVID-19
Athena Grand Movie Theater Languishes Amidst COVID-19 [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB]

Businesses In Athens Struggle Between COVID-19 And A Hard Place

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Athens County, Ohio (WOUB) — As COVID-19 cases surged in Athens many businesses have seen their hope for economic recovery fade away. Some of them re-shuttered, after having at least one employee tested positive for coronavirus. Others are struggling to stay open. Struggling with a skeleton staff, scarce customers, and safety protocols that are continuously changing. Hotels and movie theaters, places normally busy during the hot summer tourist season are struggling to stay open.

Ohio University Inn posted this message Tuesday July 14, after one of its employees tested positive for coronavirus. [Ohio University Inn | Facebook]
The Ohio University Inn, one of several hotel businesses in Athens, had an employee test positive that sent at least five other staff into precautionary quarantine.

“The hotel has been open for the whole time. The restaurant was closed for about three months” and had recently opened, says Julie Shaw, assistant general manager. But with the uptick in cases and an employee testing positive, it “is open just for carry out right now.”

Other measures taken, she adds, include not assigning rooms to a new guest until 72 hours after a check out, constant sanitizing of all knobs, doors and key to rooms. They’ve also implemented a contactless online check in. Even so, Shaw says that there has been a recent uptick of reservations being cancelled.

As per masks, both guests and employees are required to wear them, and the employees are checked for signs of poor health but their temperatures are not taken. “We do not. Due to the potential HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violation our corporate office does not want us to do that.”

At the Athens Central hotel, “each employee that comes in has their temperature taken,” says Amanda Clark, general manager. At this 22-room boutique hotel, rooms are also sanitized for more than a day before being assigned.

“We’re taking time between renting rooms. It’s a 24 to 48 hours for services. We wear gloves, we wear masks, we sanitize constantly. We’re doing everything necessary to prevent COVID spread here.”

She assures they haven’t had any coronavirus cases in the hotel so far and that they are staying open, although business has slowed down considerably.

Slow business for hotels means fewer people are needed on duty. At the Fairfield Inn & Suites – Marriot Hotel they went from thirty five people on staff to no more than ten.

“It was terrible at first. The hotel was running on a skeleton crew simply because there was no business. Business has picked up. We’ve been able to bring more people back to work,” says Mark Samuels, general manager for the 87- room hotel on East State Street.

“Our houskeepers wear masks and gloves. Gloves are changed between every room. The rooms are cleaned from top to bottom after the guests check out. We also make sure that we get all the high touch areas such as remote controls, light switches, wiping everything down.”

Samuels says that before COVID-19 it would take about twenty six minutes to clean a room. Now it can take up to fifty. They also have a person who goes around the hotel sanitizing very door and handle. Even the pens at the front desk are sanitized.

They’ve also removed furniture from the lobby, breakfast and pool areas to facilitate social distancing. The pool use is restricted to half its capacity, this is 10 people at a time. And only for on hour, after which the area is sanitized again.

“All of our employees, everyday, the first thing they do after they clock in is take their temperature. We also have a device to check their heart rate and their blood oxygen. And we have forms that they fill out everyday.”

As per masks, Samuels says all employees wear them. Some guests, on the other hand, have been reluctant. But that should change with the state requirement.

“We can’t force them to wear them even though we can call the police. There are some that just refuse. We’re getting to a point where we are going to have to tell them either put it on or leave.”

Samuel says they haven’t had any sick employee so far but says if it does happen measures will include quarentine and maybe even layoffs. Due to the fluidity of the crisis he syas new protocols are to be expected.

Re-runs And Empty Seats

But not only the hotel businesses are struggling with change. The entertainment business as well. People are afraid to go out. And that means ghostly movie theaters or arcades in Athens, even if they were offering free movies or sanitizing every corner.

“We have hourly sanitizing of all common areas of the theater as well as after each showing. Employees are cleaning, sanitizing the handrails, seats inside each theater after customers are leaving,” says Annie Hughes, General Manager for the Athena Grand in East St.

They are showing old movies since studios are not releasing any new films because of the pandemic. They’ve showcased Harry Potter, Jaws, Jurasic Park and Back to the Future.

Athena Grand Movie Theater Posters Handmade
At the Athena Grand movie signs had to be improvised. Studios are only releasing old movies during COVID-19. No promotional posters come with them. [Claudia Cisneros | WOUB]
Ticket prices had gone as low as $3 but even so, people are staying away.

“I can say it has been extremely slow in comparison to our normal. We average maybe sixty customers for the entire day, as before we could average that per movie, show time,” says Annie Hughes, general manager for the movie theater.

All employees have their temperatures taken as they start their shifts and are required to wear masks. And since the mandatory ordinance they are requiring all customers to do so as well.

At a recent showing there were only four people watching Harry Potter in one of the theaters.

“We would usually schedule five to seven employees on a busy night but right now, we are scheduling one employee and one manager to work the entire shift,” adds Hughes.

The Movies 10 & Arcade hasn’t had it better. Located in Nelsonville, they had been trying to lure their customers with free movie showings since the pandemic: Footloose, Ghostbusters and Star Wars were part of the menu of old films that studios are releasing nowadays. They also tried adjusting their opening times and days.

“We called health dept. had them here. Then had a few conversations on the phone. They are happy with what we are doing. What we want is to keep things as clean as possible. We have a plan. Following our plan. And it was approved,” says the person answering our questions through their Facebook page, and who chose to remain unnamed.

After a little while the theater was closed but the arcade remained open. “We do take temp. Of everyone. Employees and customers,” this person adds. But that certainly prove not to be enough as last week they announce that the arcade was closing on Thursday.

“Not enough business. Think these numbers going up have people scared,” the source said.