Fade-out: Ritz Sixteen/New Jersey, where children 6 to 16 had to be accompanied by a parent.
Fade-in: Showcase at the Ritz Center, where unaccompanied minors over 6 will be allowed at movies starting before 8 p.m. The changes will be effective Friday.
National Amusements Inc. completed its purchase Thursday of the theater in Voorhees, a swank multiplex with Deco decor and the feel of an elegant hotel lobby. William Towey, a senior vice president, would not disclose the price. The theater, like the Ritz screens in Philadelphia, was founded by Ramon "Ray" Posel, who died in 2005.
"For the most part, we'll be running the same mix of product," Towey said yesterday by phone from corporate headquarters in Dedham, Mass. "At least two screens, maybe more, will be dedicated to independent and art-house films."
"We will be playing more family-friendly titles, including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Shrek the Third," he said, outlining the new family-friendly admissions policy.
Patrons 12 and older will be permitted at all times. Those between 6 and 11 may come unaccompanied to movies that start before 8 p.m. and with a parent or guardian after 8 p.m.
Towey acknowledged that in the last few weeks Ritz Sixteen stalwarts have voiced concern that their "kid-free oasis" would, under new management, be overrun with children.
"We want to operate not only a a family-friendly theater, but one friendly to all segments of the population," he said. "We will not pass on a Harry Potter or a Pirates of the Caribbean for the sake of not allowing children. We think that's in bad taste, frankly."
National Amusements theaters such as The Bridge in University City employ ushers who, as Towey gently puts it, "enforce decorum."
"That means not only ensuring that kids aren't being annoying but that adults aren't gabbing on their cell phones and text-messaging, spoiling the show for others."
"We all have a fear of the unknown," said Ritz Sixteen stalwart Phil Arkow, communications director for the Philadelphia Foundation, who estimates that he and his wife attend the Voorhees theater about 40 times a year. He's relieved that the programming mix will continue as usual, but concerned about the new policy.
"We've always liked the Ritz ambiance, which includes not a lot of children," Arkow said yesterday. "Time will tell if the atmosphere is the same. The Ritz feels like a private screening room. I hope it continues to stay that way."