Drive-in movie theaters are enjoying comeback during social distancing

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Photo courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

Drive-in movies were once big in the 1960’s as a place to go on a first date. Because of the pandemic, they are experiencing an uptick in profits.

The honking of horns, the smell of exhaust, the birds chirping in the trees.  This is not your usual movie theater experience unless you find yourself rolling up to an old trend that finds itself new again:  the drive-in movie theater. 

Since the pandemic forced us to social distance, drive-in movies have made a significant comeback. Since leaving the house puts people at risk, a safer way to quench the thirst for those new movie releases is to enjoy them from the comfort of your own car.  Because of this, managers of drive-in movies have noticed an increase in business because of the sudden expansion of customers wishing to partake in the fun of movies without putting themselves at risk.

Business owner, Eddie Bernal, had a 36 foot LED movie screen and an idea.  Partnering with a Miami indoor recreational complex, Bernal launched his Carflix Cinema in their sprawling parking lot.  

 “As soon as the pandemic news started, we started trying to figure out what the future holds for us,” stated Bernal in an interview with CNN Business. “As we saw business declining, we started coming up with more ideas to generate revenue. This was one of the ideas presented by our staff, so we pursued it.”

Customers are very happy with this straight-forward alternative of sit-down indoor movies. Especially since the drive-in is accompanied by food trucks that serve burgers, hot dogs, and sushi which is brought in to the customers.

Bernal went on to discuss how he would show a movie for families at 5 p.m. and then a movie for an older crowd at 8 p.m.  On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the shows would sell out all 175 spots at $30 per vehicle.

The main group of customers for drive-in movies nowadays are young people like teens since they were the ones going to regular movie theaters more before the pandemic. Now, teens and families alike are taking advantage of all the benefits drive-in theaters have.

“Drive-in movies are fun because you can talk if you want to without getting shushed, you can bring your own things without having to worry about what the staff might say, and you don’t have to wear masks,” said sophomore Zoe Lograsso.  “I think this way is safer than going into a movie theater because you’re in a car and not in a packed area.”

With the benefits that come with drive-in movie theaters and the spread-out locations, it is no wonder why there has been such an increase in business.

“I have seen customers lined up for the drive-in movie theater. There are a lot of people that go there and I have always wanted to go because of that,” explained sophomore Juanita Ballestas, who lives next to the Lake Worth Drive-In and Swap Shop. “I think they should bring back drive-in theaters because people from this generation can experience what used to be popular so many years ago. It is a safer option that people should consider.”

The Lake Worth Drive-In and Swap Shop, which opened in 1967,  simply requires everyone to wear a mask if they step outside their vehicle and to park at least 6 feet away from other cars.  The concession stand is open for patrons who want popcorn or a snack while watching the latest releases.

With the movie theater business flourishing, deep in the city of Eustis, about a 50 minute drive from Orlando, a man named Spencer Folmar wants to build a huge outdoor theater.  A little unusual since the newest drive-in theater was built in 2005, but since so many people have been coming back to drive-in movies, Folmar thinks it’s an incredible idea to give people an alternative source of entertainment.  

“If the $460,000 purchase was approved, the theater would be 5 screens and it’d sit on a 72-acre on County Road 44 in Eustis,” explained Folmar,  in a recent interview with WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. 

According to Statista, a company that collects marketing and consumer data, in the 1950s, there were 4,000 drive-in movies in the United States, and now, there are just 321 around the country.  The pandemic may just turn the norm around to where movie houses will begin to decline in popularity and be replaced by headlights, popcorn, and a radio.