Drive-in movie theaters have been given the green light to reopen May 15.
Lockport’s Transit Drive-in has been preparing for this moment and will look significantly different than it did when it closed last season. It has revamped everything from ticketing to concessions, invested in digital scanners and extra cleaning supplies, and it has gone through intense planning to operate safely during the coronavirus health crisis.
“We’re set up to be the perfect social distancing venue,” said Rick Cohen, the theater’s owner. “Theoretically, it will be possible to see a movie without ever opening your car window.”
In just days, the company must call back all of its staff, order food and supplies for its snack bar, and choose, book and advertise the movies it will show.
It also has to educate customers on the sweeping changes that will substantially change their moviegoing experience.
For starters, patrons can no longer show up to theater and buy tickets for that evening’s show. They will be required to purchase them on the website, then have their phones scanned through their car window at the entrance. That will likely cause headaches and confusion at first, until the message gets out.
“The key to this whole thing working will be the cooperation of our customers,” Cohen said.
The theater will run at half its capacity in order to space vehicles 10 to 12 feet apart. Patrons are required to stay in their vehicles at all times unless they are using the restrooms or snack bar, when they must wear face masks. Only one person is allowed into a restroom at a time (except for an adult with a child). Restrooms will be disinfected after each use.
Double features have been replaced with single features to reduce demand for restrooms, which is highest between films. There will be four snack bar attendants instead of six, to maintain distance. One customer per order will wait in a distanced queue outside and about five people will be allowed into the lobby at a time. Food orders will be placed via an app (which is still in the works), orders will be waiting, and customers will scan, grab and go.
The theater makes the bulk of its money on snack sales. Cohen realizes more patrons will likely bring their own snacks, but he said his “No. 1 priority is gonna be safety.”
Handout sheets are gone. Rules and radio frequencies will be beamed onto the screen instead.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that certain low-risk businesses and recreational activities could reopen statewide Friday, including those involved with landscaping, gardening and tennis.
Perry’s Silver Lake Twin Drive-in will also open Friday with new procedures.
There's one more change at Transit Drive-in. A 30-second video tribute to health care and other essential workers will play before each film, when patrons are encouraged to honk their horns “loud and proud,” Cohen said.