Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
With every form of public, in-person entertainment in Maine canceled until at least July, in the ongoing attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the options for having fun outside the home seem pretty slim.
But there’s one bright spot that’s reopening beginning this weekend that allows people to stay safe while still having fun: drive-in movie theaters.
Five drive-in theaters in Maine, located in Bangor, Bridgton, Farmington, Saco and Westbrook, will reopen in the coming weeks, with Bangor, Bridgton and Farmington set to start showing movies this weekend, and Saco and Westbrook to resume operations on May 22. Two others, in Skowhegan and Madawaska, have not yet announced if they will open for the season.
Drive-in theaters, which are among the businesses included in Gov. Janet Mills’ first phase of reopening, are uniquely positioned to offer movies and concessions while allowing patrons and staff alike to stay safely distant from one another.
[iframe url=”https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1xaNM8JfbcLGW57vIqTWeHXXHLnUzO2yo” height=”480″ width=”640″]
At the Bangor Drive-In — technically located in Hermon, at 1674 Hammond St. — staff have been busy resetting the parking lot to ensure cars are parked six feet apart.
“We’re taking all the necessary steps to make sure we can offer a safe experience for people,” said Bangor Drive-In general manager Scott Warren, who also manages Bangor Mall Cinemas. “But I think this is kind of a beacon for people. It’s one of the rare good things that’s happening.”
In Bangor, moviegoers are strongly encouraged to purchase their tickets at bangordrivein.com, though tickets will also be available at the gate. Each car as it arrives will be handed a menu as well as a protocol sheet detailing how people should do things like order food or use the bathroom, and staff are planning to alert customers that their food order is ready by phone. Overall car capacity will be reduced by about half.
“We’re asking people to have some patience as we work out the kinks,” said Warren.
[image id=”2974949″ size=”full” pos=”center” /]
The Bridgton Twin Drive-In is owned by John Tevanian, the second generation of Tevanians to own a drive-in movie theater in Maine. His father built Prides Corner Drive-In in Westbrook in 1953, and it is still owned by his mother and run by his brother. The family bought the Bridgton drive-in in 1971.
John Tevanian said that not only would he be resetting the posts in the parking lot to allow for more social distancing, but that for the first time ever, he’d be accepting credit and debit cards and selling tickets in advance online. Bridgton will only run one movie per night on each screen, in order to minimize bathroom use, and the snack bar will only serve out of the window, instead of allowing patrons inside.
Tevanian also said that he’s had local high schools, bands and comedians reach out to inquire about hosting events at his theater, and he has tentative plans to host graduation ceremonies for Lake Region High School and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.
“When I can, I like to help,” Tevanian said. “But I’m getting overwhelmed. It’s like, all of a sudden, people remember where the drive-in is.”
[image id=”2974948″ size=”full” pos=”center” /]
As for the movies set to be shown this year, most theater owners expect it to be a very different sort of summer than in previous years. With indoor movie theaters nationwide closed, studios have delayed the release of some of the biggest titles of 2020, like Marvel’s “Black Widow,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” “Mulan,” and the new James Bond movie, “No Time To Die,” until the fall.
Drive-ins will instead show some of the movies that were released just as the pandemic was taking hold in the country, like “Onward,” “The Call of the Wild” and “The Invisible Man.” Going forward, Bangor manager Warren says he expects to do some more “retro” nights, screening crowd-pleasing classics. In previous years, the Bangor Drive-In has shown movies like “Jaws,” “Carrie,” “Alien,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Dirty Dancing.”
Drive-in theaters evoke the 1950s and 60s, when they were among the most popular forms of entertainment in cities and towns across America — it was a cheap way for the whole family to go out, as well as for teens to have a little wholesome fun on the weekends. By the 1980s, however, rising energy costs and the onset of home video drove many drive-ins out of business. By 1989, there were less than 200 drive-ins operating in the country.
That number has risen since the 2000s, riding a wave of nostalgia from the Baby Boomer generation, and drawing a younger generation interested in a novel form of entertainment. Today, there are more than 300 drive-in theaters nationwide.
[image id=”2974947″ size=”full” pos=”center” /]
Maine has embraced the drive-in experience, even before the coronavirus pandemic. There are seven theaters presently in Maine — including two that have opened in just the past five years. The Bridgton, Westbrook and Saco drive-ins have all been operational for decades. Saco opened in 1939, making it among the oldest drive-in theaters in the country. The Bangor Drive-In reopened in 2015, 30 years after it closed in 1985. The Narrow Gauge Cinema in Farmington opened a 60-car, single-screen drive-in in 2017.
Theater owners are hopeful that once the pandemic has passed, movie lovers will continue to patronize their drive-ins, even when other forms of entertainment are back to their regularly scheduled programming.
“It’s one of the only things people can do right now,” said Warren. “It’s obviously not the best circumstances, but it’ll hopefully turn a lot more people onto how much fun the drive-in experience is.”
The Bangor Drive-In will this weekend show two double features: “Onward” and “Call of the Wild” on screen one, and “The Invisible Man” and “The Hunt” on screen two. Both will begin at sundown, around 8:15, and doors will open at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $22 for a car with three or more people in it; singles and doubles are $10 per person.
The Bridgton Twin Drive-In will show “Onward” on screen one, and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” on screen two. Tickets will be available to purchase in advance via Eventbrite.
The Big Sky Drive-In in Farmington will show “The Call of the Wild” on its screen; tickets are available online at narrowgaugecinema.net.
BDN reporter Troy Bennett contributed to this article.
Watch: The risks associated with reopening rural parts of the state