Two local bowling alleys and a movie theater are joining the voices of concern about health and financial risks of Gov. Brian Kemp’s surprise order that they and certain other types of businesses shuttered for the pandemic can reopen within days.

Brandt Gully, owner of the independent The Springs Cinema & Taphouse theater in Sandy Springs, said he was “just kind of stunned and not sure what to make of it” and that “it doesn’t feel right” to reopen. It also doesn’t make sense in the most basic way, Gully said: “One of the issues, and it’s not the main issue, but we don’t have content. There are no new movies.”

Justin Amick, president and CEO of the company that operates Buckhead’s Painted Pin and the Westside’s Painted Duck high-end bowling parlors, also expressed surprise and concern. “Although I couldn’t be happier to have bowling solidified as one of life’s most essential needs, I’m surprised by the accelerated timeline to be able to reopen our doors to the public,” he said.

Justin Amick at the Painted Pin. (Special)

Justin Amick elaborated on the concerns in a joint statement with his father Bob Amick, owner of the Concentric Restaurants group, which includes TWO Urban Licks, Bully Boy and Parish.

“We are scared to death about the new norms, strict limitations and guidelines that will make it impossible to be financially viable,” the Amicks said. “A rushed reopening could be the nail in the coffin for many companies. We won’t risk the safety of our staff, families and patrons, as their well-being is of the utmost importance.”

They join some other local restaurant owners who expressed immediate confusion and concern with Kemp’s April 20 reopening order.

On March 23, Kemp ordered a statewide shutdown of bars and nightclubs and a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people. Starting April 3, Kemp imposed a statewide shelter-in-place order that essentially instructs people not to leave their homes except for basic supplies, exercise or emergencies. He also ordered the closure of several types of businesses, including gyms, salons, barbershops, bowling alleys, theaters, live performance venues and dine-in service at restaurants.

Kemp’s April 20 order largely reverses the April 3 business closures, allowing most of them to reopen in a limited way on April 24 and for theaters and dine-in restaurants to return on April 27. Bars and nightclubs remain closed.

The order has sparked local and national debate as part of the political and scientific tensions between models for slowing the pandemic’s spread and the financial damage to people and companies. But it has also created practical confusion for businesses for a number of reasons.

Kemp issued few details about the safety rules that would apply to businesses if they reopened on April 24 and none yet for those that could reopen on April 27. For April 24, he referred to “basic minimum operations,” which typically means accounting and similar behind-the-scenes work, not a full return of normal business.

Meanwhile, the shelter-in-place order remains in effect through April 30, during which people are supposed to going out only for necessities. And while the reopening is voluntary — the businesses can remain closed if they choose — it is unclear whether it will generate economic pressure to do so.

The Amicks are among local business owners who say that reopening under pandemic safety limits could mean taking on full, normal expenses but only a limited way to make money.

“We can’t wait to get back to work, but the decision feels premature,” said Bob Amick in a written statement. “Small businesses, including restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, are currently fighting for their lives due to the nationwide forced closures. On one hand, we need to be open to be able to survive, but we only have one opportunity to get it right, there are no second chances.”

Brandt Gully, owner of The Springs Cinema & Taphouse, speaks to guests at the 2019 grand reopening of the remodeled theater. (File)

“It honestly — it really puts us in a tough position,” said Gully, the theater owner, about Kemp’s announcement. “I’m sure there’s intent there for the government to throw us a lifeline here and allow us to reopen. But truthfully, I don’t really like the position I’m in. I closed before I was required to close for the same reason I likely won’t open when I’m allowed to open.”

“Obviously, I have some significant concern over opening, and I think for certain we wouldn’t be opening on Monday,” said Gully, who closed the doors of his theater on March 17.

Gully said that Hollywood studios are not planning to release major films for another eight to 10 weeks. He expected a reopening of theaters no earlier than mid-June. Opening even earlier would mean finding other types of movies to screen, raising one of many financial viability questions. “We can’t just open. You have to have something to show,” he said.

The unknown details of Kemp’s reopening order would matter a lot. Gully noted such factors as what level of occupancy the theaters could have, what safety rules would be required, and whether there would be any additional insurance liability.

Meanwhile, like many business owners, Gully said he was planning to use some of the idle goods and services for charity — selling beer growlers and giant bags of popcorn at curbside to benefit a children’s cancer organization.

Avatar photo

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.