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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Coronavirus Resurrects Drive-in Theaters

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Social distancing is giving way for throwbacks to make their comebacks, and among them are drive-in theaters.

Amid the coronavirus crisis and call for social distancing, drive-in theaters all around the U.S. have not only remained open but have been seeing a steady increase in revenues. In an article released at CNBC, it seems that as early as March, outdoor cinemas were already experiencing an uptick in sales. And with all of the country’s 5,548 indoor movie theaters closed, and with people looking for ways to enjoy a bit of normalcy, business continues to boom.

“Everyone is looking for a way to feel normal and this is a way of being safe,” Andrew Tomas, owner of Showboat Drive-in Theater located in Hockley, Texas told CNBC. “I spend all day answering emails from people who never heard of us before because they are trying to find something to do.” As one of the few surviving drive-in theaters in Texas, his business has experienced up to 40% increase in sales early March during the early days of coronavirus outbreak. Two weeks later, late March, his sales had increased by 95%, and just by showing two films: “Onward” by Disney and Pixar, and “The Invisible Man.”

“This time of the year I normally would not sell out [of tickets] because children are in school and stuff, but I am finding now on Fridays and Saturdays I am reaching my capacity and have to turn people away,” shares John Watzke to The Guardian. Watzke owns one of the outdoor cinemas in Florida that’s benefiting from social distancing, Ocala Drive-in. He says his experience with hurricane Katrina in 2005 made him decide to stay open this whole time, so he can provide people with an outlet. “Anything that brought a few minutes of a normal life to us was appreciated.”

New venues, new functions

According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association (UDITOA), drive-in theaters that have previously closed down before continue to open as an answer to the growing clamour for a safe way to socialize and enjoy a bit of normalcy. Even establishments with big parking lots are taking advantage of this trend and are opening their own. The association says that they are expecting this boost to last even after the pandemic, with both experts and officials predicting social distancing measures to stay in place.

And it’s not just movies that are being shown in outdoor cinemas. Early May, The New York post reported that “comedians with credentials including “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Comedy Central and Netflix’s “The Degenerates” stood in the bed of a pickup and delivered their lines to a lot of some 45 socially distanced cars.” The event was held in the parking lot adjacent to the locally-famous Astoria eatery, a venue that has been recently transformed into an outdoor cinema.

 As one of the very few spaces deemed safe for socially distanced gatherings—and as proven by the outdoor stand-up event in New York—outdoor cinema owners see their establishments filling in new roles in the near future, and are preparing to host not just movie screenings and live shows, but meetings, church services, and other ceremonial events. 

It’s interesting to see that what was once deemed to be a relic of the past has now become such a high-valued business and is providing thousands of Americans relief from all the stress brought about by the last few weeks.

A Global Trend

Although native to those in the U.S., the outdoor cinema trend is not only happening in the States. In fact, drive-in theaters are also seeing a resurgence in Germany where almost 30 drive-in theaters have opened since the pandemic. South Korea’s youth have also been flocking to parking lots to see outdoor films. And Denmark, as early as May, have been doing drive-in concerts at a venue that also doubles as a drive-in theater.

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