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Rochester-area drive-ins prepare to reopen

Charles Molineaux
Created: May 12, 2020 11:33 PM

(WHEC) — The operators of the Rochester area’s two drive-in theaters expressed eagerness to reopen and a sense of heavy responsibility as the vanguards of the first phase of New York businesses permitted to resume operations. 

“I think people want to get out. They want to be amongst other people but, yet, feel safe,” Rick Stefanon, owner of the Silver Lake Twin drive-in in Perry said.

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While the theater would normally start operations in April, it has been closed due to the statewide coronavirus lockdown. It now plans to reopen at 8:30 this Friday night.

Stefanon declared it very important that he demonstrate businesses who’ve been pushing to start back up now show they can operate safely. 

“We feel very fortunate to be one of the ones to first open up the business after everything’s been closed for so long,” he granted. “If we can keep people socially distant and we can do our part… we can actually help other businesses out there reopen even more quickly."

At more than 23 acres, there's plenty of room for social distancing at Silver Lake Twin and the number of cars allowed in will be cut in half to just over 200, from its normal 400.

The playground is closed. So is Silver Lake's miniature golf course. Customers will be quickly guided into and out of the snack bar which now has plexiglass shields.

In East Avon, the 41-acre Vintage Drive-in plans to reopen on Thursday of next week. Here, only about 275 cars will be allowed in, down from 700 and the owner Paul Dean says the concession stand will be strictly walk-up  

"I think all the eyes are going to be on us,” he said. "We are going to show everyone that this can really happen."

Once operations resume, Stefanon predicted the biggest challenge would be the restrooms, which routinely see a rush of customers during intermission and may require a lot of patience and some adjustments on the fly.

Both drive-in operators promised intense and frequent restroom cleaning, as well as people monitoring them and Stefanon suggested those intermissions may end up being stretched longer to give more time for bathroom breaks delayed by limits on how many people could use the facilities.

The movies themselves may be a little older than first-run.  Both theaters planned to show “Trolls World Tour” and “Jumanji: The Next Level” for kids and “The Invisible Man” and “Bad Boys For Life” for adults.  

All four movies have already been out in theaters for months, since before the lockdown began. 

For the immediate future, Stefanon admitted movie content may be a challenge.  

“We will have to get creative,” he laughed. “Maybe run some retro movies, some favorites, along with some of the first run and see what happens.”

Silver Lake is also already offering more uses for those seeking the safety of social distancing in its vast space. Three local schools including Perry High School, are planning graduations there.

The local Old Paths Chapel church has held drive-in services and next months the Silver Lake theater will host a wedding.

Dean said the Vintage Drive-in had received inquiries from schools and organizations seeking to use the drive-in’s space for events and, now that the state has cleared the facilities to open, he said he would be looking at those requests and considering when the theater might be able to accommodate them. 

"It feels good and you do get a sense of satisfaction out of helping and doing whatever we can to make things, a tough situation, easier,” Stefanon said. 

As for the bottom line, Dean granted limiting theaters maximum capacity would hurt the box office take but declared he hoped to make up for that. Once it begins operations, the Vintage Drive-in plans to have shows every night, rather than just on weekends. Dean also predicted that so many people will want to get out for activities like a movie night that the theaters will see crowds approaching a full house, albeit adjusted for the smaller capacity, every night.


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