• Amanda Powell

Back To The Future; not the movie but the way we watch them

From the Pohatchee Drive In from Back to the Future Two to Danny and Sandy’s humble date in Grease, American children transition from innocent babes to awkward teens in a pop culture where drive-in theaters are as American as apple pie. But almost 70 years after its peak popularity the number of drive-ins dropped from 4,000 to 305.

Fortunately for families, individuals in the industry foresee a vibrant comeback in our new socially distant society. As Covid 19 razes through the nation and fear for public health is at an alltime high, consumers look for safe, socially distant entertainment. Have no fear for entrepreneurs such as Eddie Bernal rise to the occasion. In response to government restrictions of his live event company, Aver Productions, Bernal utilized available resources to bootleg a temporary drive-in theater to help brighten spirits and create an alternative source of cash flow. And other entrepreneurs are following suit, seeking new sources of income after the Covid 19 outbreak. A May CNN article reported “outdoor cinema venues.. popping up all over the country.” Current owners are also optimistic of the drive-in’s future. John Stefanopoulos, owner of Four Brothers Drive In, said business was “almost double what it was the previous pre-season opening.”

However a consensus is still lacking. Schuyler Moore, an entertainment attorney at Greenberg Glusker scoffs at the drive-in hype saying, “I wouldn’t count on drive-in movie theaters making a comeback anytime soon. The land would be too expensive in urban areas to justify them.” A successful drive-in requires at least 15 acres of land. And even with lower housing costs in the 70s, it was more profitable to sell the land rather than establish a drive-in. Therefore despite low operating costs, today drive-ins would be uneconomic due to high housing demand. These fleeting up-starts might wilt in a post Covid-19 market and face the same fate of 1970s cinema.

Whether drive-ins will return full force or fail to keep up with market prices, families everywhere should take advantage of this opportunity to get a taste of the 1950s experience while they still can. Local Bay Area families should check out the West Wind Drive-In & Public Market drive-ins who are reopening their Concord, San Jose, and Sacramento branches.



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