As movie theaters across the country are forced to close their doors due to the coronavirus outbreak, a tried-and-true alternative is emerging in their place: drive-in theaters.
Though extremely popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the number of drive-in theaters, once in the thousands, has since dwindled, and there are just 305 left in the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But as the Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend social distancing as a means of stopping the spread of the virus, drive-in theater owners in California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri all tell the Times they’ve seen an uptick in business.
At the Paramount Drive-In Theatres in Lakewood, California, sales for a Tuesday night showing of Onward were “at least double” what they usually are at 320 tickets, owner Beau Bianchi told the newspaper.
“It has been a welcome relief for families and adults looking for a little getaway from the house,” he said. “We’ve been trying to let people know that we have a safe environment and [offer] a little escape.”
The Times reported that many theaters have taken extra precautions to prevent the spread of disease, including limited or no concessions, and making sure employees wear gloves while handing out tickets.
“Nobody is near us, and we can actually enjoy the movie without feeling that paranoia where something like somebody coughing would have us instantly move,” said dad Christian Singleton, who brought his two kids to the screening of Onward.
AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark Theatres are among the movie chains who have closed their doors until further notice amid the outbreak.
But the screens remain running at the Starlite Drive-In in Cadet, Missouri, owner Doug Mercille told the Times, adding that he was still uncertain if his business should count as a gathering of 10 people or more, something the CDC has recommended against.
“I don’t think we fit into the gathering category personally because all the gatherings are places where you are confined with a bunch of people. At the drive-in, you’ve got to be in your own car,” he said. “Where else are [people] going to go right now? It’s nice to be able to open that outdoor environment where they still feel safe and can do stuff with family.”
Meanwhile, in places that have been harder hit by the outbreak, like New York, drive-ins are fighting to stay open amid ordinances ordering the closures of places like movie theaters and restaurants.
The Warwick Drive-In in Warwick, New York was scheduled to open for the season on April 3, and said they still hope to do so, pending permission.
“New York State has closed all restaurants, bars and movie theaters to protect its citizens from the virus,” the theater said in a Facebook post. “We have petitioned for a waiver because we are an outdoor venue and do not have crowds of people sitting in auditoriums.”
The Bengies Drive-In Theatre in Middle River, Maryland expressed similar concerns over whether they needed to follow Gov. Larry Hogan’s ban of gatherings of more than 250 people, and said they were seeking out answers before the planned opening day of April 3.
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