What’s going on with drive-in theaters? The majestic tradition that brought out millions of families across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast began to wane in the late 1980s.
By the 2000s, many drive-in operators were having to find new ways to keep their beloved traditions alive.
Some, however, were clearly doomed. The National Drive-In Theatre Association estimates that 63 drive-in theaters closed between 2006 and 2017.
The massive business model shift towards digital content distribution also further weakened the drive-in.
Then Coronavirus struck. It’s the virus that caused more than 3,400 people to contract the SARS virus, and 15 to die, in 2003.
Coronavirus was only a small part of the culprit for the modern decline of the drive-in, but it certainly exacerbated it. Coronavirus wiped out many of the traditional “practice” activities for the chain of theaters.
Current data on the issue from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that around 90 percent of US drive-in screens closed between 2012 and 2017. But where does New York stand in this national snapshot?
According to a report from The New York Post, the 50 drive-ins that remain in New York State are only operating in one form or another. For some of these restaurants-cum-cinemas, they have simply closed down in favor of digital content.
When it comes to live-action family films, all of the ten theaters in the Southern Tier are one-of-a-kind, digital screened The Haunting of Hill House was the last family film to be shown in the region, at the Queens County Carousel in Westbury, New York on June 4.
Shots Fired and BlacKkKlansman were also last shown at the top of summer at the Carousel.
What could possibly remain of the drive-in business in the future?
The New York Times suggests that the trend may be towards the independent player, which allows films that are not available through the exhibitor multiplexes and the large digital choices to be seen in a personalized environment.
The recent documentary Fruitvale Station explored the true life story of Oscar Grant, an African-American man, who was shot and killed by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officer whilst in transit. Fruitvale Station has been shown at independent drive-in cinemas across the country, including Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C.
What’s next for the drive-in business?
While none of the company’s theaters are consistently playing a family-friendly film, just over ten of them are currently showing some kind of first-run blockbuster to fill their winter months schedule.
The drive-in theaters participating in the drive-in pass program from NDTIA are Mom’s Mart, Cineplex, Warner Brothers, and Shentoland.
The rest of the theaters taking part in the New York State Model Drive-In Marketing program are Village Cinema, Cobble Hill Cinemas, Indian Village, Independent Drive-In, The Wegrassy Shoppe, the Movie Tavern, Hopwood Drive-In, Columbus Drive Drive-In, South Street Loews, and the Leo Theatre.