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Salem Twin Cinema to reopen June 25

Morning Journal/ Mary Ann Greier Salem Twin Cinema employees from left, Joe James, Gray Buta, manager Alex Grist and Jess Paumier stand behind the counter, ready to serve their family of loyal customers. The movie theater, closed since March 16, 2020 due to the pandemic, is reopening June 25 with F9 The Fast Saga.

SALEM — Salem Twin Cinema has the popcorn ready, just waiting for movie buffs to fill the seats when the theater doors reopen June 25.

Employees, owner Jock Buta, family and friends, Salem Mayor John Berlin and Salem Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors and members cut a ribbon Tuesday to celebrate the theater’s grand return.

For manager Alex Grist and his staff, opening day can’t come soon enough after being closed a year and three months due to the pandemic.

“I’m excited. It’s been too long since we closed,” Grist said.

The twin screens went dark on March 16, 2020 when the governor shut everything down. Even after they were told they could reopen, under social distancing guidelines and capacity limits, it just wasn’t feasible.

Now that the health orders have been lifted, though, they’re anxious to bring back their loyal customers.

“We have some surprises in store for patrons,” Grist said.

The first movie on the schedule is F9 The Fast Saga, the latest installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, so Salem Twin Cinema’s unique vibrating seats in the middle row will be rumbling.

“It was so important for us to hold this ribbon cutting because we wanted to ensure that the Salem Twin Cinema, who was affected adversely by the pandemic, was celebrated. The Salem Twin Cinema has been a staple in the Salem community for almost 50 years and should be honored for their perseverance. The Chamber is proud that this was our first event since COVID as it commemorates a return to semi normalcy while also bringing attention to businesses who are renewing their investment in Salem,” Chamber Executive Director Lori Jewell said.

Buta said he’s excited to finally be able to reopen. He was glad the governor relaxed the COVID restrictions and hopes people come out. Patrons won’t be required to wear masks, but staff members will wear masks for now.

This is a second reopening for Buta after he bought the business and did some major renovations, switching over to digital projectors and replacing all the seats, and then reopening in November 2014 after being closed. The building is leased and the theater was in jeopardy of disappearing due to the need to go digital.

Buta decided he wanted to preserve Salem Twin Cinema and make some unique improvements, such as the rumble seats, recliners in the front row and seating in the back for people accompanying family members or friends in wheelchairs. The old projection rooms were transformed into VIP party rooms, comparable to loge seating at stadiums, where several friends or family members could have some fun at the movies.

“It’s just a real treat for the community to have a local cinema,” he said.

When the pandemic hit and the business was forced to close, Buta wanted to keep their manager employed so they transferred him to the Buta family business, Butech Bliss, where he worked in spare parts sales. He’ll continue doing that part-time while managing the cinema.

“I feel very privileged to have found someone as passionate about the movie industry and the cinema like Alex,” he said.

The theater has five employees, all who worked there when it closed and wanted to come back. Even throughout the year without movies, Grist stoked the interest of cinema fans by sharing trivia and fun facts on the Salem Twin Cinema social media page. He said he wanted to make sure people in the community knew they were still here.

Reopening is huge. He said people are anxious for it because they kept asking him for details, especially when they saw him doing some work at the property. He said it’s a cultural place, a place where you have entertainment in a communal setting, with everybody sharing in the experience.

Many community members grew up there going to the movies, seeing blockbusters like Jaws or popular films like Dirty Dancing or some of the more recent offerings.

Grist said his first job at age 16 was working at Salem Twin Cinema when Geoff Goll owned it. Goll recently wrote a letter to the editor thanking the Buta family for deciding to reopen, saying the community owes them a debt of gratitude.

Grist said the cinema has a lot of regulars and the phone’s been ringing off the hook since people learned they were reopening. He said he enjoys being part of the media culture and really enjoys movies.

His favorite? A classic — Ghostbusters.

Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for kids 12 and under or seniors 60 and older. Matinees are $6 for everybody. The showtime schedule will be released soon at SalemTwinCinema.com.

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