Drive-in movie theaters surge in popularity amid coronavirus fears

Drive-in movie theaters are an iconic part of America’s past. In 1958, there were 4,063 such theaters across the country, but as home video became more accessible, the business started to decline. Now, there are only 305 drive-in theaters across the United States, but as millions of people try to avoid interacting with others for fear of catching or spreading the coronavirus, they’re experiencing a spike in popularity, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Although some drive-in have gone the way of most ordinary movie theater chains and shuttered, others have remained open. Last week, ticket sales at the Paramount Dive-in in California were “at least double” what they normally were, according to owner Beau Bianchi. “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.”

Obviously, there’s a question here of whether it’s safe or responsible to gather for a movie at all, even if a drive-in movie doesn’t require you to get out of your car. The CDC has recommended that events involving groups of 50 or more people not be held for at least the next eight weeks, after all. Does that include drive-ins?

“I don’t think we fit into the gathering category personally because all the gathering places are places where you are confined with a bunch of people,” said Doug Mercille, owner of the Starlite Drive-In in Cadet, Missouri. “At the drive-in, you’ve got to be in your own car.”

Christian Singleton, who brought his 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter to a showing of Onward at the Paramount Drive-In last week, seems to agree that drive-ins are safe enough. “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,” he said.

But like I said, not all drive-ins are open for business. For example, the Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa, Oklahoma is closed down unless it can get an exemption from a citywide order shuttering all movie theaters. “The city is allowing fast-food drive-thru businesses to stay open,” said owner Blake Smith. “I am making the case that we are similar to them.”

“I don’t think [coronavirus concerns] hurt us,” he continued. “There’s a little pent-up cabin fever.”

Where do you stand on this? Are drive-ins a safe, welcome exception to all the theaters currently getting closed down, or is this still pushing it? If you think it’s worth it, you can look up if there’s a drive-in theater near you here.

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