Screening resurgence: Drive-Ins become the ticket during COVID-19

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"Star Trails and a Drive-In Movie" by slworking2 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Lily Goossens, Lamp writer

As the sun sets, the excitement rises. With next to all of the nation’s movie theaters shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, a few drive-in owners have found that they’re in a special position to give their community a chance to escape the house and be entertained while keeping interactions with others to a minimum.
Jack Dyson, 28, father of two, was attending the Oct. 23 premiere of Monsters Inc. at Springfield’s Route 66 Drive In.
Satisfied with the simplicity and speed of his pick up, Dyson was pleased to say, “Here I can be entertained while feeling safe, spending quality time with my family. Who would have thought that drive-in movies would one day again become the most attractive option for going out?”
Around the states, businesses of all trades seem to be showing a drive-in movie somewhere if you have, you know, a parking lot and a blank wall. A lot of stadiums are rigging themselves up, mostly because you can’t watch sports either, so you’ve got to use your stadium for something, and they have spacious parking lots.
The Huntley, Illinois, Walmart supercenter is among the 160 Walmart stores that have transformed parking lots into a drive-in movie theater from Aug. 14 through Oct. 21.
“The parking lot can fit 200 cars and will have concession stands, food trucks, and police officers to keep things on the up and up,” said Lindsey Stirling, a Huntley Walmart spokeswoman. “I want it to be where nothing happens out here, to keep it clean, no troubles and keep everyone coming back and not worried about it.”
Drive-ins aren’t without their own virus concerns though. Concession stands and restrooms, in particular, still pose issues. Standard drive-in precautions made are spacing out cars to every other car, reworking how customers are able to order concessions (via text messages or apps), and limiting restroom occupancy while maintaining a sanitized environment.
At Springfield’s Route 66 Drive In, moviegoers could flash the tickets on their phone from the window to gain admission. As for concessions, people could download the FanFood app and be notified when their order is ready. And of course, masks are permitted anywhere when outside of a vehicle.
Kevin Burns, an employee at Route 66, encourages the idea for many drive-ins, if feasible, to remain open for weekends.
“Psychologically, it’s pretty distressing and sometimes depressing to be isolated at home,” Burns said. “So I think activities that would increase one’s positive views and minimize anxiety should be encouraged.”
It’s a rare moment in the spotlight for the drive-in industry, which has been declining more by the decade. At the industry’s peak in 1958, there were 4,063 drive-in screens across the country; now reported as of October, the U.S. has 305 drive-in theaters with a total of 549 screens, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, in Stephens City, Virginia.
So it’s happening a lot, but whether or not the multitude of drive-ins still operating amid the Covid-19 era will be able to keep doing so in the days ahead remains an open question. It depends on the course of the pandemic – but during this time, people are really starving to get out and do something. This weekend, some drive-ins aren’t the only show in town. They’re the only show in the country.