Drive-in movie enthusiasm garnered during COVID expected to stick around

Longworth, now co-owner of the Moonlight Movies Drive-In Theatre, used to operate the Jubilee Drive-In located in Manitou Beach. He then started up Moonlight Movies in Lumsden, but had to close in 2019 after experiencing permit issues.

With the pandemic hitting not long after that, Longworth assumed it would be quite some time before the theatre reopened.

But the mayor of Pilot Butte reached out to Longworth, asking if they would consider moving to the small town just east of Regina.

“It’s one of the best things that ever happened to us, to be honest. It just turned out to be fantastic,” Longworth said.

Between the location closer to Regina and the pandemic sending people hunting for safe activities, attendance skyrocketed.

“It was a lot busier than we expected last year,” he said. In Lumsden, a good movie would draw around 30 cars. Now there have been many nights with more than 70 cars.

“There’s no question that the pandemic … it made it even more popular.”

He has also been hearing many stories of people coming out to see a drive-in movie for the first time and enjoying the new experience, and he is hopeful these people will become repeat customers.a fire hydrant in the grass:  People watch a movie at the Moonlight Movies Drive-In Theatre in Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan.© Jay Longworth People watch a movie at the Moonlight Movies Drive-In Theatre in Pilot Butte, Saskatchewan.

Moonlight Movies is not the only drive-in theatre that saw an uptick in attendance.

Don Zaba, owner and manager of the Twilite Drive-In Theatre in Wolseley since 1982, said he has seen a slowly growing interest in drive-ins over the last decade. The pandemic only enhanced that steady growth.

“We had quite a few that were first-time comers to a drive-in, that’s for sure,” he said.

“(When) you talk to them throughout the evening, a lot of them say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll definitely be back,’ so that’s good news.”

The Manitou Beach Drive-In is already starting to reap the benefit of those who discovered drive-ins during the pandemic, said manager and operator Earl Hayhurst.

Last summer, the theatre saw a lot of new people attending, or parents who hadn’t come in years taking their children for the first time.

This summer, those same people are returning and bringing others with them.

“A lot of them were here last year. ‘Oh yeah, we had a good time here last year so we brought, you know, cousin, whatever, or grandma,’” Hayhurst said.

“There’s quite a bit of that this year.”

He too is hopeful many of these new-found fans will become repeat customers, helping to drive business for years to come.

Noticing this rising interest in drive-in movies last summer, Trystan Meyers, owner and operator of Armed with Harmony in Saskatoon, wanted to get in on the fun.

His event services company already had a large outdoor blow-up screen, a sound system and an FM transmitter they used for different private events.

During the pandemic, he saw an opportunity to use the equipment he already had to set up a pop-up drive-in theatre in Saskatoon. That increased awareness created even more interest among people looking to get the drive-in movie experience at their private event.

He expects the interest to linger long after the pandemic is over, but he noted it is sometimes difficult to find parking lots large enough to host the pop-up drive-in events. Instead, he expects to switch to putting on movies in the park where people can sit on blankets or lawn chairs to watch.

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