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'Help us survive' | How this Fairfax movie theatre is surviving the coronavirus outbreak

This theater owner can't sell movie tickets, so he's selling sidewalk popcorn instead.

FAIRFAX, Va. — It's a movie theatre experience...without the movie.

Like virtually every other cinema in the country, Fairfax's popular second-run movie house, Universal Mall Theatres, has been closed since last week because of the spreading coronavirus outbreak. 

But in order to keep employees of the theater paid during the closing, owner Mark O’Meara thought of a unique way to keep the business running – giving folks an entertainment option while staying indoors to slow the spread of the virus.

Since he couldn’t sell movie tickets, O’Meara took inspiration from a nearby McDonald’s that was offering only take-out. Last Wednesday, he started to sell "curbside concessions," with large tubs of popcorn starting out at $3.

"Everyone is home, and nobody has anything to do except check Facebook," O'Meara said in Variety magazine. "We’ve gotten tons of likes and comments and they’re all telling people, so it’s spreading." 

In addition, the theatre is offering films that you can watch in the comfort of your own home. Patrons can pay for the ticket on the theatre's website and will receive a link to view the film.

Credit: WUSA9

"All of us little people, being more a part of the community, we’re better suited to rally," O’Meara said. "The larger chains get a lot more customers, but I get to know my audience well." 

On Mar. 24, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all non-essential businesses to close until at least April 27, following a trend set by neighboring state Maryland. 

Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide, and the governor urged Virginians to limit all non-essential travel outside the home. Those with chronic health conditions, and those 65 and older, are asked to self-quarantine.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (From the State of Virginia):

When does this order go into effect? What areas of the state are covered?

The order is in effect from Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 11:59 PM until Thursday, April 23 at 11:59 PM. It applies to the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

Will this order be changed?

Governor Northam, in consultation with State Health Commissioner Oliver, may adjust this order or issue new orders as needed, given the quickly-changing public health situation.

Can I leave my house?

Yes. However, Governor Northam is urging Virginians to limit all non-essential travel outside the home, if and when possible. If you choose to go to the park, for a walk, or exercise outside, please practice strict social distancing and keep six feet apart from others.

All public and private gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

RELATED: LIST: Here's what is open and closed in Virginia

Are you limiting interstate travel?

No. Our roads and highways will remain open to move essential personnel and critical supplies.

What about religious services? Can I still go to my church, synagogue, or mosque?

Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via “drive-through” worship. Places of worship that do conduct inperson services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.

What should a business do if they are unclear on whether they are an essential or non-essential business?

Any business that is not explicitly set forth in the essential categories listed above should limit operations to 10 patrons or less with adequate social distancing.

Are there restrictions for any other categories of business?

All other categories of business should utilize teleworking as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and other appropriate workplace guidance from state and federal authorities while in operation.

The following sources provide workplace guidance for operations that remain open:

• CDC Guidance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html

• OSHA Guidance: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

• Virginia Department of Labor and Industry Guidance:


What happens if a business does not follow the closure or restriction requirements in Executive Order Fifty-Three?

Businesses in violation of this order may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Do I still have to pay taxes?

Yes. Businesses impacted by COVID-19 can also request to defer the payment of state sales tax due, March 20, 2020, for 30 days. When granted, businesses will be able to file no later than April 20, 2020 with a waiver of any penalties.

The Virginia Department of Taxation has extended the due date of payment of Virginia individual and corporate income taxes. While filing deadlines remain the same, the due date for individual and corporate income tax will now be June 1, 2020. Please note that interest will still accrue, so taxpayers who are able to pay by the original deadlines should do so.

I have to lay off employees. Will I be penalized when they apply for unemployment benefits?

Regional workforce teams have been activated to support employers that slow or cease operations. Employers who do slow or cease operations will not be financially penalized for an increase in workers requesting unemployment benefits.

RELATED: Virginia coronavirus updates: 12 deaths, nearly 400 cases

RELATED: 'It's not need-based, it's a service' | DMV hair salons, barbershops forced to close amid coronavirus outbreak

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