Drive-in movie theaters reopen as coronavirus restrictions ease

There are about 305 drive-in movie theaters in the US

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On Friday, the Warwick Drive-In movie theater in Warwick, N.Y., will be open for the first time this season.

Typically, the outdoor theater opens the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day, but because of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of nonessential businesses, the Warwick Drive-In had to postpone the start of the season.

“I applied for several waivers to be considered essential,” Beth Wilson, one of the Warwick Drive-In owners told FOX Business.

Her applications were never approved.

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In fact, she received a message on Monday saying her most recent application had been denied, only to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement a few hours later that drive-in movie theaters were allowed to reopen on Friday.

“I went nuts,” she said. “I just started screaming, hollering, jumping up and down.”

Drive-in movie theaters are considered among other “low-risk business and recreational activities” that were given permission to reopen statewide on Friday, according to a press release.

Across the country, other drive-in movie theaters are opening as well. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that about 10 drive-in theaters in Texas, Florida and Georgia had already opened.

Last weekend, drive-in theaters in Connecticut reopened, according to the Hartford Courant, and this weekend, a drive-in movie theater in Rhode Island will resume operations, according to a local ABC affiliate.

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There were only about 305 drive-in movie theaters in the country as of October, according to data from the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, an industry trade group.

Among those 305 theaters, there were 549 screens.

The states with the most number of drive-in theaters were New York and Pennsylvania, which each have 28.

They were followed by Ohio, which has 24, and Indiana, which has 19.

Only five states don’t have any drive-in movie theaters: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana and North Dakota, according to the trade group.

Meanwhile, Arizona, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wyoming and Puerto Rico each only have one drive-in movie theater.

In the heyday of drive-in movie theaters -- back in 1958 -- there were 4,063 across the U.S., according to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association.

More than 1,000 screens were closed between 1978 and 1988, according to the group.

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Today, as states are slowly reopening after months of stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus, drive-in theaters can offer a safe respite from being inside all the time.

Wilson said that one of the appeals of the drive-in movie theater, as opposed to a regular movie theater, is that you don’t have to worry about a stranger sitting behind you who could sneeze or cough on you.

“When you're coming into the drive-in theater, you're in your own car,” Wilson said. “You know the people that you're with. It might be your family, your roommates, whoever. You've been with those people already. And so you're comfortable with that group of people who are with you.”

When the Warwick Drive-In reopens on Friday, it will have strict guidelines that follow state rules including six-foot social distancing practices and mandatory masks for anyone outside their vehicle, according to the website.

The theater will also be attempting new measures including digital ticketing and online ordering for concessions, Wilson said.

The theater’s three screens -- which all show double features -- will be showing “Bad Boys for Life,” “The Invisible Man,” “Bloodshot,” “Jumanji: The Next Level,” “Sonic The Hedgehog” and “Trolls World Tour.”

“During the coronavirus, we've all been locked up in our houses,” Wilson said. “We can go to the supermarket, we can go to Lowe's or Home Depot, but you kind of get bored of those things … you can only take so much. Entertainment is a big thing to make you happy.”

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