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Several Washington movie theaters reopen Friday at 25% capacity

AMC is reopening its 14 locations in the state, while some smaller, independently-owned theaters are choosing to stay closed, saying they can't afford to open yet.

SEATTLE — In a movie theater of 100 seats, only 25 people can sit in them under Washington state's latest restrictions to help curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Some of the larger chains can still make a profit, but some smaller, independently-owned theaters are choosing to stay closed, saying they can't afford to open right now.

"I can't meet that obligation right now where people would walk in and feel like they're 100% safe," said David McRae, owner of Ark Lodge Cinemas in Seattle. 

McRae said Ark Lodge is home to four screening rooms and about 400 seats. 

"To be capped off at 100 seats total and having to do all the cleaning and sanitation that needs to get done, the larger chains have more screens, so they can see there's a feasibility to it," said McRae.

AMC is reopening its 14 locations in Washington state on Friday.

Theaters will open under reduced capacity and anyone sitting down to watch a movie will have to wear a mask and sit in reserved seats, allowing for social distancing.

Some of the necessary changes present challenges for a smaller theater like Ark Lodge Cinemas. 

McRae said he's created a crowdfunding campaign to help the theatre pay for back rent and upgrades including, touchless systems, reserve seating systems, etc.  Among the desired upgrades, McRae said improving air ventilation is at the top of the list. 

"It has to be medical grade heating and ventilation with air scrubbers and that's going to take some time for us to get the funds together," said McRae. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stresses the importance of proper ventilation indoors in order to reduce the risk of getting sick. 

AMC said it has upgraded HVAC systems with MERV 13 filters, hoping to assure customers who may be nervous about enjoying a movie. 

McRae said even when he feels comfortable opening his theater back up, movie production companies are being strategic about blockbuster rollouts. 

"They're really holding a lot of their big their tent pole films, they are being pushed until later in the new year," said McRae.