Six days after opening in defiance of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders, the Tilton Square Theatre is closed again.
Owner Brett Denafo said he received three summonses in the mail from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s office, and after speaking with them and others, decided to voluntarily close the doors to the theater in Northfield, just over the bridge from Margate.
A statement from the theater posted on Facebook described the closure as “forced," and done “with great disappointment and frustration.” The theater would remain closed “until the Governor allows us to reopen," the post said.
“We received an onslaught of citations and threats of legal action against us, despite providing a higher standard to keep our customers and our employees safe,” the theater said. “We believe we have been unfairly targeted and denied the right to engage in lawful business activity while other businesses are able to operate legally.”
The Tilton Square was the only theater open in New Jersey, and Denafo had taken numerous steps to follow CDC guidelines for spacing, cleaning, and air filtering. He sold tickets at $6 a piece and said it was the only way to keep from going bankrupt.
“They didn’t shut me down,” he said. “I decided to shut down. I talked to the prosecutor’s office and said, I’m not going to open today. I changed my mind.”
The summonses carried fines of up to $1,000 each, and Denafo said he was concerned about other action the state might take in terms of licensing. He owns two other theaters, under different corporate entities, in Stone Harbor and in Ventnor, that have liquor licenses.
At his daily news conference, Murphy said the state had been in discussions with Asbury Park elected officials, who voted to begin indoor dining, also in defiance of the governor’s executive orders.
Asked if he would be stepping up enforcement in the wake of the defiant theaters and towns, Murphy said yes and specifically mentioned “the theater near Atlantic City.”
“It did not open today,” Murphy said. “We’re not trying to big-foot people. Inside, sedentary, no ventilation, close proximity is hard. Will we get there? Yes. We hope to give guidance sooner than later.”
Denafo, who spent $21,000 on an advanced air filtration system, said he was still hopeful to be able to open. The AMC movie chain has announced it will open nationwide in July.