Social-distance cinema: June 6 is National Drive-In Movie Day

Why not take your collector car to an outdoor theater this weekend?

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In the social-distancing era, drive-in movie theaters such as The Family Drive-In Theater in Stephens City, Virgina, are enjoying a resurgence | Volkswagen of America photos

(Editor’s  note: June 6 has been designated as National Drive-In Movie Day. According to the NationalDayCalendar.com, Richard Hollingshead Jr. established the first drive-in movie theater in Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933. His facility had a 40 x 50-foot screen and room for 400 cars. By the late 1950s there were around 4,000 drive-in theaters in the United States. Those that survived have been enjoying a business boom in the new social-distancing era. 

In honor of National Drive-In Movie Day, Volkswagen of America provided the following story. And don’t forget, a trip to the drive-in theater in your area can be a great experience in your collector vehicle.)

Drive-in movie theaters are one of the few businesses experiencing a renaissance amid the coronavirus pandemic. As one of the few entertainment destinations you can still visit outside of the home, they’ve experienced a boom in popularity and demand over the past couple months.

“We’ve seen a resurgence in interest across the country. Our shows are selling out every night. It’s the best market I have ever seen in all my years in business,” says Jim Kopp, owner of The Family Drive-in Theatre in Stephens City, Virginia.

The open-air venues are uniquely suited to thrive while many brick-and-mortar theaters have temporarily closed. Though there aren’t many left in the U.S. — about 330 still exist, compared to over 5,400 multiplexes — they’ve been bright spots of entertainment, comfort and nostalgia at this difficult time.

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“We’ve heard from a lot of folks that they didn’t even realize drive-in theaters still existed [before the pandemic],” Kopp said.

The Family Drive-in Theatre, which has been a staple in the community since 1956, has reopened with an abundance of caution to help protect their patrons. 

Moviegoers must buy tickets and concessions online, don face masks outside and maintain a proper social distance from fellow guests and their cars. Theater management has also limited the two-screen drive-in to half capacity, closed the children’s outdoor playground and covered their movie speakers in protective wrap. Bathrooms are sanitized by attendants after every use.

“Folks want to come, have fun and feel safe in their automobiles all while maintaining proper social distancing,” says Kopp. “Our lifestyle has been so disrupted [by the pandemic] and our theaters provide a chance for people to return to normalcy.”

In honor of National Drive-In Movie Day, we asked Kopp for ten tips on how to make your next (or first) drive-in movie experience a success:

  1. Secure tickets in advance: Most drive-in ticket sales have moved online, so be sure to scope out the best showtimes online and purchase your ticket ahead of the show. “It’s automatic insurance that you’re going to get in,” says Kopp.
  2. Arrive early: Demand is high, especially during the summer, so Kopp suggests moviegoers arrive at least an hour early to secure a spot near the front of the screen. If you’re looking to beat the crowds and avoid parking hassles, you may want to consider a weekday screening.
  3. Pack toys and games: After arriving early, you’ll have some time to kill before the film starts. Be sure to pack some light entertainment, such as a book or card game, for you and the kids.
  4. Dress comfortably: Consider wearing cozy clothes, such as shorts and leggings, and extra layers to stay warm and relaxed. Kids can always wear their pajamas to the show, which makes it convenient for parents when putting them to bed after a late screening.
  5. Bring bug repellent and sunscreen: Most drive-in movie theaters are in or around wooded areas, which means bugs. Unless you enjoy swatting them all night, pack some spray. Sunscreen is another good option for protection from those hot summer rays.
  6. Pack a portable radio and extra batteries: While The Family Drive-In has speakers located throughout the pavilion, the noise of fellow guests can carry over and Kopp suggests packing a small AM/FM radio to make sure you capture every bit of dialog.
  7. Bring pillows and blankets: One of the biggest perks of drive-ins is sitting outside underneath the stars. To make the experience cozier, put down the back rows of your parked Atlas or Tiguan and open the trunk towards the screen.
  8. Order from the concession stand: Drive-ins typically make most of their money from concession stands. Kopp doesn’t accept a salary and puts all the theater profits back into his business. To adjust to current safety measures and to continue keeping revenue fluid, he has moved the theater’s concession operations online. Patrons can now order boxed goods via an app. An exception to the rule is to purchase a food permit, which typically ranges from $5-$10. It allows you to bring in food from outside while helping the drive-in owners offset the loss of revenue from the concession stand.
  9. Put away your cellphone: Refrain from any cell phone use during the show. It can be disturbing to guests and distracts from the experience.
  10. Prepare to have a good time: “Sit down, relax and enjoy the show,” Kopp says.
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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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