Mark Stotzer is happy and overwhelmed at the response of the community since the reopening of the Ceres Drive-in Theater on Sept. 25.
“It’s been really good,” said Stotzer of Lucky Shoe Productions. “We had our first five shows all sell out. There’s just a lot more excitement than there was for a drive-in in 2005.”
The drive-in theater lot has a capacity of 212 vehicles.
Opening weekend saw sold-out films on Friday, Sept. 25 – when “Frozen” drew families – and on Saturday, Sept. 26 and Sunday, Sept. 27.
The theater had a capacity crowd on Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3 and a 90 percent capacity on Sunday, Oct. 4.
Stotzer said people are used to the days of just driving up and paying admission at the gate – and that still can be done – but because tickets are being sold on a reservation basis, sometimes the theater has to turn away folks because capacity has been reached.
“That’s the way it always was, you’d just drive up,” he said, noting that it’s always advisable now to book reservations for any given night through the website, ceresdrivein.com which also shows a schedule of upcoming movies and buy tickets.
In the event of nights when the movie is sold out, the staff will place a “SOLD OUT” sign at the Whitmore Avenue entrance.
“We’re just trying to let people know hey you just have to buy them in advance. We’re grateful for the support but we have to let people know if they want to be guaranteed a ticket you have to buy in advance.”
Inclement weather is on the way but Stotzer said the plans are to remain open year round.
“One thing that’s nice about the fact that it’s on FM radio now is people can actually stay in their cars; you don’t even have to have your windows down.”
Stotzer said sales at the drive-in concession building are also brisk.
“We asked a lot of people what they really want to see and we brought back the chili cheese nachos that the drive-in used to have. We have hotdogs, popcorn of course, soda and also cheese and pepperoni pizza by the slice, you know, plus ice cream, candy all the usual stuff. And one thing that we wanted to emphasize with that is we want it to be a good value. There’s nothing on the menu more than $8. We’ve heard a lot of people say it’s a good place to go, the food’s good and it’s cheap. We want it to be fair for people.”
Stotzer said the drive-in has seen few problems with conduct at the drive-in.
“People have been very respectful and even done a good job of picking up after themselves with their trash and they’re following the social distancing guidelines. We had one couple that was feeling a little amorous that our security was able to break up that up quickly.”
Armed security guards are posted at the gates and throughout the drive-in lot.
One man did cause problems when he refused to wear a mask while standing in line and made a political statement. Stotzer said the theater has a right to eject persons.
“We’re not going to get shut down over a mask. If that guy doesn’t want to come back, that’s okay because we’re not going to get shut down.”
Every Friday night will feature a family film, said Stotzer.
Saturday and Sunday movies shown in October will have a Halloween type theme. Last weekend was “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beetlejuice” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Since attendance is less on Sunday, Ceres Drive-In is experimenting with switching things up the remainder of the month with showings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. “The Exorcist” will be shown on Thursday, Oct. 15, “Hotel Transylvania” on Friday and double feature “Christine” and “The Amityville Horror” on Saturday. He said it appears that people are less enthusiastic about attending a Sunday movie, which lets out about 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. and work for many is the next day.
“Carrie” will be shown on Thursday, Oct. 22; “Hocus Pocus” on Friday, Oct. 23; “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” on Saturday, Oct. 24; “Ghostbusters” on Friday, Oct. 30 and “Scream” and “The Conjuring” on Halloween night, Saturday, Oct. 31.
Tickets are $30 per carload.
Because Hollywood isn’t releasing any new movies due to COVID-related closures of theaters and the public’s desire for entertainment with social distancing rules, drive-in movies are making a comeback across the country. Lucky Shoe Productions, a promotor of large-scale concert venues, obtained a lease from owner Harbins Gil of H&H Enterprises. The northern half of the property –site of a formerly-used second movie screen – will remain in use for truck parking while the theater yard perimeter will be screen off for a continuation of the weekend flea market operation.
The Ceres Drive-In is operating under an existing conditional use permit approved by the city years ago.