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Drive-in theater sees surge in sales as restrictions roll back

·3 min read

You can still travel on the road to recovery by leaving your car in park.

The Warwick Drive-In, has been operating in Warwick, N.Y., since 1950. At the time roughly 4,000 drive-ins operated across America. Now, there are more than 300 left, and some of them are finally getting ready to open for the season.

After delaying its season opener because of the coronavirus, the crew at Warwick are getting set to reopen May 15, in accordance with New York law. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said drive-in movie theaters were among the businesses allowed to reopen in certain parts of the state.)

“Pre-ticket sales are pretty much sold out,” says Warwick Drive-In owner Beth Wilson. “Everybody around here is going crazy trying to get everything together. We had less than a week to do a month's worth of work that we normally do,” she said. Warwick will be showing “Bad Boys for Life” and “The Invisible Man” starting Friday.

Amid stay-at-home orders movie theaters remain closed around the U.S., with some studios postponing theatrical releases while others release movies digitally; box-office revenues have dropped dramatically so far this year. a new demand has resurfaced for this old style of Americana. Temporary pop-up drive-ins are showing up in parts of the country, providing an outlet for people to go outside and take in some entertainment while staying safe.

The new dynamic is a surprise shift after all this time. “There's only 330 of us in the country,” Wilson said. “So it’d be nice to see some new ones coming in... I'm going to have a lot of new customers that are coming in for the first time now and just see the experience and enjoy the experience. It's a lot different than your general movie theater – when you're sitting at night under the stars and watching a movie.”

There might be a lot more people under the stars, too. Wilson said pre-sales for weeknight screenings are going up, and that’s a big boost to the industry.

The theater will have to think of innovative ways to bring in new customers, and it plans on doing so by helping new graduates.

“We are doing graduations for the month of June. During the week, our big concern was to get these kids graduated in a proper way,” Wilson said. Graduates and their families will sit in their cars and watch a pre-recorded on the big screen.

“And we've had people reach out for concerts, comedian shows, bands that just want to play before the show, all these little different things,” Wilson said. “It's going to be interesting the rest of the year.”

Nick Monte is a producer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MontesMayhem

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