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March 27, 2023

Local cinemas back in business with added safety

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Ballina Fair Cinemas Manager Paul McGrath with Mulan poster. Photo David Lowe.

The popcorn is cooking and the choc tops are cold. In great news for movie-lovers, the cinemas of the Northern Rivers have re-opened, with added COVID safety precautions.

Echonetdaily asked Ballina Fair Cinemas Manager Paul McGrath what it’s been like to re-open his doors.

‘Our first week was a bit soft,’ he said. ‘People didn’t realise we were open, and we didn’t really have any new movies to show. So we’re just working with these restrictions on seating numbers, and trying to get people in, and feeling safe.

Sam Lewis and Paul McGrath welcome a patron to Ballina Fair Cinemas.

‘We’re offering $10 tickets for everyone, and we’ve barricaded off every second row so there’s no problem with social distancing. Now we just need people!’

As an independent cinema operator, Mr McGrath said he’s managed to keep his staff on with JobKeeper, and has had everyone busily cleaning and repainting while the cinema was closed.

He said patrons have been very happy to see the cinema open again.

‘I think we just need reasons for them to come back in. A day or two of rain would be good! We can’t compete with the sunny weather and the whales jumping out in the ocean.’

New releases

Mr McGrath said there are two new releases next week, the Russell Crowe drama Unhinged, and the Judd Apatow comedy King of Staten Island. Coming in August is the new Australian comedy Rams, with Sam Neill and Michael Caton.

He told Echonetdaily the cinema is ready to adapt to any changing restrictions from government health authorities. ‘We’ve got three cinemas here, and there’s a lot of seats, so even with us roping off every second row we’ve still got quite a lot. We can fit 50-70 in each cinema, and family groups can still sit together because there’s no one sitting in front or behind them.’

And a message for the public? ‘Please support local businesses, that’s what it’s all about’, said Mr McGrath.

Over at Palace Cinemas Byron Bay, General Manager Eli Ayo was all smiles after re-opening a few days ago, although things are a bit different there too.

Palace Cinemas Byron Bay General Manager Eli Ayo. Photo David Lowe.

‘We’ve re-opened with restrictions in place,’ he said, ‘so all our auditoriums have restricted capacities. We’ve blocked off every second row, and then the algorithm works, so if you book a ticket, it will block out the two seats next to that booking as well.’

Mr Ayo said the response from the public has been great. ‘The town loves it, they’re happy to have us back. It’s been overwhelming, really.’

He said the cinema is doing everything it can to create a safe environment.

‘We’ve got contact tracing. We’ve got restricted capacity. We’ve got cleaning procedures in place for all our staff, we’ve got different lineup systems. There’s no reason why it’s not a safe place to come.’

Mr Ayo said issues in the USA have meant there have been hold-ups with hotly anticipated new releases, like Tenet, but ‘that’s expected to come out very soon.’

The focus now is on family films for the school holidays.

Big screen or BIG screen

Echonetdaily asked Mr Ayo if he thought people would come back to the cinema after binge-watching Netflix during the lockdown.

‘There’s nothing I can compare to the cinema world,’ he said, ‘There’s something about going to a movie, buying a choc top, the smell of the popcorn when you enter the building, the surround sound and the quality of the content that we play.’

Until Wednesday 8 July, Palace is doing a special Movie Club deal, with five tickets for $40. ‘You can get as many as you want, so it’s definitely worthwhile,’ said Mr Ayo. ‘People have been stocking up on them!’

He said choc tops will be $2 until Wednesday as well.


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  1. It’s a shame Ballina cinema doesn’t accept “Companion card” for people living with a disability to attend with their carers. So many disabled people in Ballina, some bums on seats better than no bums on seats. For this reason alone I now go to Palace cinema in Byron. Clean, easy access disability toilet, easy access, easy parking.


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