Once a staple of communities across the nation, many drive-ins were all but forgotten leading into the disruption caused by COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020. Between social distancing measures, lockdown orders, restrictions on businesses hosting crowds in close-quarters, and understandable germaphobia, this national treasure just may be on the brink of a comeback, with Cape Cod and the Islands leading the way.
In the late 1950s, there were more than 4,000 drive-ins in the United States. In 2019, only about 300 remained in business. Cape Cod favorites like Dennis Drive-In and West Yarmouth Drive-In were lost to history. Screens and buildings were demolished. Parking areas were gradually reclaimed by nature. Many could only reminisce about loading up friends and family in the station wagon with blankets and snacks for an evening in front of the big screen, under the stars, with the sweet taste of the saltwater breeze in the air.
The pandemic may have shifted the tide of the receding Cape Cod drive-in. Wellfleet Drive-In was already in business and more than prepared to welcome customers in the new reality. Having been in operation on the Cape for over 60 years, they didn’t have the start-up challenges faced by other drive-ins popping up across the nation. Over the years, the venue has grown to include a mini-golf course, flea market, and a dairy bar. For decades Wellfleet Drive-In has been the only Cape Cod drive-in, and many still consider it the only “real” drive on the Cape. But others are trying to join the movement, providing that quintessential summer experience.
In Hyannis, local organizations teamed up to transform a local parking lot into a mini drive-in theater. The Hyannis Drive-In was open for six weeks in the summer of 2020, with movie nights and music for about 50 cars. Drive-in proceeds benefitted Cape Cod business owners adversely affected by COVID-19 restrictions as well as the Hyannis Film Festival.
In West Yarmouth, Chicago-based Innovation Arts & Entertainment took over the site of the old Yarmouth Drive-In to create a venue featuring music concerts and comedy shows for up to 450 cars at a time through October. In East Falmouth at Cape Cod Fairgrounds, the Falmouth Drive-In Entertainment Complex opened midsummer complete with safety monitors on site. The venue presented classic and family movies, music shows, and a full month of Halloween movies in October. In Truro, Payomet Drive-In Live at Payomet Performing Arts Center used the ballfield space to host 40 cars at a time for music, comedy, and circus-themed shows.
Both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have also been bit by the drive-in bug. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival established The Vineyard’s Summer Drive-In at the Oak Bluffs YMCA parking lot, presenting classic and family films, art pieces, and documentaries. On Nantucket the pop-up Dreamland drive-in delivered classic films and family favorites at its 68-car venue, many of which featured interviews with stars, filmmakers, and other specialists before the show.
The resurgence of drive-ins, though many were planned as temporary alternatives to normal entertainment options, has introduced new generations of movie goers to the pleasure of the drive-in experience. Some of these new venues will continue into the 2021. Stop by the Mashpee Village green on Thursdays from July to September to catch a Summer Drive-In Movie Night, stop by Hyannis for Movies on the Main on Tuesdays from early July to early August, or enjoy Movies Under the Stars at the Falmouth Public Library on Wednesdays!
So, pack up your blankets, fold down the back seats, and settle in for a movie in the warm summer air!