While 2020 is becoming known as the year of COVID-19, it also is being associated with a revival in the popularity of drive-ins.
Once a mainstay of entertainment for families, couples and friends, drive-in theaters have mostly fallen by the wayside over the years.
But, Joy-Lan Drive-in and Swap Shop, in Dade City, has held on.
For nearly 70 years, it has given locals a chance to watch outdoor movies on a giant screen.
“Drive-ins are so fun because each one you go to is very different… It’s a unique experience for everyone who goes,” said Chip Sawyer, president of Sun South Theaters, which owns Joy-Lan, and Silver Moon Drive-In, in Lakeland.
Sawyer, a drive-in enthusiast, took over the business in 2017, after his grandfather Harold Spears — the original owner — passed away.
He’s thrilled to see so many people coming out to drive-ins.
Joy-Lan Drive-In, which is Pasco County’s last remaining drive-in theater, presents a slice of nostalgia. Music from the ’50s plays, as movie-goers pull into the lot and get ready to view the film.
Paige Atkinson, one of those patrons, has been watching movies at Joy-Lan for years.
“It’s a nice get together for my big group of family and friends,” Atkinson said. “Plus, you get to stay in the comfort of your own car and bring whatever you want.”
Families can bring snacks, spread out on blankets or settle into their lawn chairs — to escape to the world of the movies, under a starry sky.
While Joy-Lan is maintaining a long-held tradition, other drive-in movie options have popped up during the pandemic.
Walmart is conducting a nationwide traveling drive-in theater tour to 160 Walmart Supercenters.
The tour included a stop at the Walmart Supercenter in Wesley Chapel on the nights of Aug. 18 and Aug. 19 to screen the movies “Spy Kids” and “Selena.”
The movies were free, but required guests to register, and the store capped attendance.
To keep people safe, Walmart strictly enforced social-distance guidelines, social-distanced parking spaces, and required those attending to remain inside their vehicles.
At another local venue, Floodgates Church hosted a drive-in theater night on Aug. 15 at Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park.
“We wanted to give some love and outreach to our community, and give people who have been cooped up in their homes a chance to get out,” said Pastor Kenton Brake, who leads the Lutz church.
Families of all ages came out to watch the Disney film “Up.”
Whether sitting in their cars, on the roof of their vehicles, or spread out on the grass with their dogs — the event had a communal feel, as movie-goers shared laughter and experienced a sense of normalcy — during the midst of a global pandemic.
The pastor said the church team wasn’t sure what to expect, so it was greatly encouraging, when they saw the parade of cars that arrived.
“All the positive comments we got that night was very rewarding,” Brake said.
Will the movies ever be the same?
When the pandemic forced movie theaters to go dark in March, it was unclear when — or if — they would reopen. AMC Theatres reported a $2.17 billion loss in the first quarter, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The national movie chain began reopening on Aug. 20, charging patrons 15 cents, for that one day only. It remains to be seen whether movie-goers will return in vast numbers, or if concerns about potential spread of COVID-19 keep them away.
Joy-Lan Drive-in and Swap Shop, offers outdoor movies that attract families, couples and groups of friends.
Where: 16414 U.S. 301, Dade City
When: Screenings are Wednesday through Sunday, with the first movie starting at 8:30 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are $6 for adults, and $2 for kids ages 4 through 9, and are good for two screenings.
Published September 02, 2020