Pop-up drive-ins set to return to northern Ontario
SUDBURY -- A group of entrepreneurs in Sudbury are working hard to bring back a nostalgic family-friendly activity missing from the north for some time.
Benjamin MacKenzie is spearheading the Horizon Drive-In, a pop-up drive-in theatre that will be making the rounds across northeastern Ontario this summer. The first showing in Sudbury is July 3-4.
"We wanted to bring back that outdoor movie experience to those who never experienced it or those who experienced it in the past but wanted to relive those golden days, as we called it," MacKenzie said.
This isn't MacKenzie's first foray into the pop-up drive-in industry. In 2016 he was behind what was then called the Sudbury Drive-In. With movie theatres still closed and many restrictions still in place due to the pandemic, he thought a drive-in might be more needed now than ever.
"Especially with everything going on now with COVID-19, we thought what better summer opportunity to take than to restart this initiative," said MacKenzie.
"With movie theatres closed, festivals closed, people stuck in the house, this is a safe alternative for people to get together but still be social distancing and apart and enjoy classic movies, new movies, horror movies (and) some family films."
Precautions in place
There are a number of restrictions from the province that must be put in place, including limiting the number of vehicles at a showing, ensuring vehicles are properly spaced and physical distancing markers for the concession stands.
MacKenzie said the group will use technology to make interactions with staff contactless. Tickets will only be sold online, and while concessions will be offered, they must also be purchased through the drive-in's website.
"So you can, again, show up to the concession stand, show your phone QR code, one of our staff will scan it and then they'll place the products down in front of you, no contact," said MacKenzie. "We're also going to offer concession-to-car-delivery as well, so you can order on our website and we can have one of our staff members bring it over to your car … if you don’t feel comfortable getting out and standing in that line."
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to restructure the lives of so many, drive-in theatres have been seeing a surge in interest this summer.
South of Parry Sound, the Sunset Barrie Drive-In reopened for business earlier this month and has been seeing strong demand.
"We have been pretty busy -- a lot of people come each week," said Sydney Dobson, assistant manager of Barrie's drive-in. "We have closed off our playgrounds and our dog parks and we have brought in extra porta-potties so that we can have less people in the bathrooms at a time and we have regulated cleaning for them."
Great option during pandemic
As of Friday, Dobson said they will be able to reopen the concession stands for the first time, as long as guidelines are followed. She said that during the pandemic, drive-ins are proving to be a great option.
"A lot of people seem to be excited. We have a lot of new people that haven't been to a drive-in before but it's generally been a really good environment. People are cooperative and nice and understanding of what's going on and that we have these rules in place for a reason."
With no drive-ins left in northern Ontario, MacKenzie said he is hopeful the Horizon Drive-In will be able to reach new audiences. Since going live on social media a few weeks ago, he said the demand seems to be there.
"We've had people calling us like crazy, messaging us, 'when are you going to open? We're so excited!'" he said. "So it feels really good to have such community support behind this idea and especially as a young entrepreneur it's great to see."
Ticket sales for Sudbury for the weekend of July 3-4 will launch on its website soon. Dates will also be announced for showings in North Bay and Manitoulin Island, while the group continues to work toward finding a location to hold showings in Timmins later this summer.