Entertainment

Drive-ins have become a safe zone for moviegoers, owners hope they return after pandemic

Key Points
  • Once a dying piece of Americana, drive-ins have become a safe haven for people to get out of their homes for an evening, while still adhering to health guidelines.
  • A Virginia-based drive-in theater has transitioned all of it's ticketing and concession ordering to be done online.
  • Theater owners hope the revival in patronage will continue after the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Virginia Drive-in Theater: We've serviced nearly 5,000 movie-goers since lockdown lift

Drive-in theaters are having a renaissance as coronavirus social distancing restrictions make them a safe place to go to the movies.

"We are surprised," Jim Kopp, owner of the Family Drive-in Theater in Stephens City, Virginia, said Friday on CNBC's "Worldwide Exchange."

"There are a lot of folks anxious to go out and be safe and get some movie entertainment." 

Once a dying piece of Americana, drive-ins have become a safe haven for people to get out of the house for an evening, while still adhering to health guidelines.

About 30 drive-ins are still in operation in the United States as of this month, according to driveinmovie.com. The website estimates that about 330 are still standing, down from the late 1950s' peak of about 4,000.

Mom and pop drive-ins have seen spikes in revenue and a massive increase in demand in recent months. Kopp is hoping that newfound resurgence in patronage will continue even after Covid-19.

Of course, amidst the outbreak, the drive-in experience has had to change. At Kopp's theater, cars are spaced 10 feet apart instead of side-by-side. Where two cars used to share a speaker, there's now only one per speaker. And that speaker is covered to prevent people from touching it.

Kopp has also transitioned all of the theater's ticketing and concession ordering online or through an app. 

"It has changed the way we are doing business in that everything in online," he said. "It is a contactless type of process."

The Family Drive-in has also altered its cleaning strategy. After each use, its restrooms are sanitized, leading to longer-than-average lines, especially in the ladies room, he said.

"They are happy that it is sanitized in between use," Kopp said. "We are really happy that crowds are coming out."