A summer tradition/ Locals heading to Ohio drive-in theater

Jon Christy, the owner's nephew, collects french fries at the Sundance Drive-In Theater concession booth in Oregon, Ohio.One of the movie screens in the drive-in theater.Larry Hartford, who has worked with owner Keven Christy for at least 20 years, grills cheeseburgers on a grill in the concession building of the Sundance Drive-In Theater in Oregon, Ohio.Brigid Collins, a pre-medical student at the University of Toledo, is the assistant manager of the Sundance Drive-In Theater in Oregon, Ohio, in charge of the cash register.Alina Rijoas, a grocery concession employee at Sundance Drive-In Theater in Oregon, Ohio, fills an ice bucket for customer orders on Movie Night.

Keven and Sue (Morrin) Christy, owners of the popular Sundance Drive-In Theater in Oregon, Ohio, aren’t surprised to see numerous Michigan license plates in their parking lot.

The couple said it wasn’t uncommon for dozens of Michigan vehicles to flock to their outdoor theater shows on Route 2 (Navarre Ave.) across from Pearson Park.

“We see them all the time,” said Sue, who grew up in Erie and owned Susie’s Sweets & Eats in downtown Monroe for more than 10 years before closing earlier this year due to shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been. “They’ll say you’re the popcorn lady. We get people from all over Michigan, from the west side of the state, from the north to Detroit. We have had generations of families coming back to watch outside. Some of them have never been to a drive-thru. “

She said Monroe County’s patrons would make the 30- to 40-minute drive to the theater because “we’re established, family-owned and run, and a safe, clean place. People like that. “

Sundance, which has a long history in northwest Ohio, is the last of eight drive-in theaters to flourish in the Toledo-Bowling Green area in the 1960s and 70s. Known as the Park Side Drive-In in its heyday, the theater first opened on April 27, 1949, Keven said. The name changed before he started buying the theater two years ago. Since 1986 he has worked in various functions at the drive-in.

The complex offers two large movie screens with a width of at least 30 meters and a height of 30 meters in a relaxed atmosphere under the starry sky. The drive-in is 18 acres east of the Oregon Senior Lofts and the Oregon Fire and Rescue Museum. It has a large food concession and 1,500 square foot dining area that serves pizza, hamburgers, chicken tenders, tacos, french fries, nachos, funnel cakes, soft drinks, and soft ice cream. Spectators can watch from their car or truck seats or sit on garden chairs or blankets in the parking lots while social distancing themselves from other vehicles.

“I hope they remember us and make us part of their summer time again and again,” said 63-year-old Keven on Sunday. “The drive-in industry hasn’t changed that much. People and their families still want to get out and make a night out of it. ”

Sundance runs on two large screens and is currently only open on Fridays and Saturdays. But after Memorial Day weekend (May 28-31), the theater is open every evening through September, rain or shine.

Movies displayed on the front screen are usually classified as Parental Guidance (PG). This means that the movie is suitable for general viewing. However, some scenes may not be suitable for young children. Those on the back screen are sometimes rated R for restricted – meaning anyone who enters under 17 will need an accompanying parent or guardian.

The crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit the drive-in theater industry, as well as indoor movies and numerous other small businesses, hard, the couple said.

“With COVID we had to think outside the box,” said Sue. “We had to deal with COVID and all the stoppages and restrictions, but people still want to be in public and be entertained. We follow all of the Lucas County’s Health Department rules and protocols and had to cut the number of cars in half to clear them out. ”

The vehicles are 20 feet apart and the poles are used to transmit an FM transmitter for audio.

Due to social distancing and the limitation of one vehicle per pole, the maximum number of vehicles allowed in the gravel parking lot today is 475. The turnout since the driveway opened on April 1 has not approached that number, but with warmer weather and less expected COVID restrictions. A larger audience is expected this summer, he said.

“It’s difficult to attract people when there are restrictions and restrictions on how many cars can come in,” said Keven. “Without COVID rules, there could be two cars per pole and we could have 950 vehicles. That would be wonderful. But until that happens, I’d be happy with 600 to 800 cars. ”

Admission to Scooby Doo (Rated PG) and Mortal Kombat (Rated R) last weekend was $ 9.50 for those ages 12 and up, $ 4 for teens 5-11, and free for kids under 4.

Last year, the couple ran both candy and popcorn year round (if the state allowed) while also running the drive-through from April through September, with the exception of a few months when all stores were closed due to the Coronavirus.

Sue, the youngest of six children of Woodrow and Angela (McCarty) Morrin of Erie, graduated from St. Mary Academy in 1974. She said closing the popular candy store was difficult, but noted that many small businesses have also closed because of the pandemic.

To make up for some of the lost revenue from COVID, the couple have allowed people to rent the drive-through for weddings, graduations and other special events and fundraisers, such as those held last week for the Toledo Pregnancy Center, which has around 125 vehicles participated. Live concerts and live streaming concerts were also held on stage or on screen to attract customers into their vehicles. Garth Brooks and Metallica hosted live streaming events last year while Christian rock star Zach Williams sang live in concert and drew 200 vehicles on May 1, Keven said.

“It was a very good concert,” he said. “Everyone had a good time. The concerts are usually quite loud and people dance and sing. If you haven’t turned it on in your vehicle, you can probably hear it from someone else’s car. ”

Other upcoming concerts include a live streamed Bon Jovi show on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., the Florida-Georgia Line on June 12, and the Christian rock band Skillet on June 18 with Colton Dixon and Jordan Feliz. The gates will open for ticket holders at 6:30 p.m. Advance booking tickets are available online from Ticketmaster.

Keven has been in the drive-through business for more than four decades, starting when he was a kid in Bowling Green.

“As soon as you get into theaters, it goes in your blood,” he said. “There’s nothing like walking around watching a movie and going to the concession booth. But looking back, I never thought that I would fight and fight to stay alive like we are today. This pandemic has definitely hurt us. “

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