By Jordan Schrecengost
WATERFORD — Area residents have the opportunity to experience some classic films on the big screen once again at a local drive-in.
Sunset Drive In, located at 808 Route 97 in Waterford, has been playing reruns of old fan-favorite movies and will continue to do so this weekend since there has been a severe lack of new movies being released in theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sunset Drive In is owned and operated by Erie residents Dennis and Margaret Koper. Dennis started working at the drive-in 1968 and the couple bought the drive-in 1986. In the beginning, they only had access to second-run films before working their way to new releases, which are also known as first-run movies.
“When we originally started, all we could get were second-run movies. Now we get first-run movies. We worked our way up because they don’t start any theater out with first runs,” Dennis said.
The Kopers have never experienced anything like this before or can remember a time when there were practically no new movies being released in theaters and drive-ins.
“When this virus hit, they’re not releasing any of the new movies,” Dennis said. “They’re streaming it to pay-per-views and that, so it makes it rough for us.”
Since there are no new releases being shown in theaters and drive-ins, the Kopers’ film distribution company decided to offer reruns of classic movies as an alternative.
“They’re releasing a lot of the old classics back to the movie theaters so we have something to run,” Dennis said.
The Kopors have received positive feedback from their customers who have thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of their all-time favorite films return to the big screen.
“A lot of people like it. They say ‘we haven’t seen those movies in years’ because there’s a lot of people who don’t have satellite or cable where they can get these movies,” Dennis said. “It was surprising the crowds that they do draw. It was unbelievable.”
Since reopening, Sunset Drive In has shown numerous classic films, including “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Ghostbusters.”
The playing of classic movies will continue this weekend with “Footloose” (rated PG) and “Grease” (rated PG-13). The movies will be shown in that order on Friday, July 17, Saturday, July 18, and Sunday, July 19.
“Footloose” was originally released in 1984 and stars Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, Dianne West and John Lithgow. It’s a musical drama about a teenage boy, Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), who moves from Chicago to a small town in Oklahoma where the boy tries to overturn the town’s ban on dancing spearheaded by a local minister (John Lithgow).
“Grease” was originally released in 1978 and stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It’s a musical romantic comedy about the lives of greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Australian transfer student Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) who develop feelings for each other despite coming from different backgrounds.
Gates open at 8 p.m. Ages 12 and older are $8 each, ages 7 to 11 are $3 each and children ages 6 and under are free.
Last week, the drive in played “Inside Out” and “Black Panther” and it was able show some new releases that came out when the drive-in first reopened, including “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Onward,” “Call of the Wild,” “Trolls World Tour,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Doolittle” and “The Vast of Night.”
Due to coronavirus restrictions, Sunset Drive In can only allow 75% of its capacity per state and local health department guidelines.
“It was at 50% capacity until we went green and now we’re at three-quarter capacity,” Dennis said.
The drive-in’s restrooms are restricted to two people at a time per the health department. There has to be a person at the bathrooms’ door to make sure no more than two people are inside at any given time and the drive-in’s staff has to sanitize the whole restroom every half hour.
Masks or face coverings must be worn while at the ticket booth and whenever attendees are outside their vehicles. When Sunset Drive In first reopened, children were not permitted to play outside of their cars or run around and the snack bar wasn’t not allowed to reopen, but Dennis said that, thankfully, has changed.
“Kids can play outside now and the snack bar is open,” he said.
Dennis added the restrictions imposed by state and local officials are really difficult for owners of drive-ins.
Initially, the health department didn’t permit Sunset Drive In to have its weekly Sunday flea market, but it has since returned. At first, the flea market could only operate at half capacity but now it’s permitted to operate at three-quarter capacity.
The flea market is held on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the drive-in’s 10-acre field.
For more information, call 814-796-4883.
Recently, Sunset Drive In also played a concert by country music artist Garth Brooks since in-person concerts can’t happen right now because of the pandemic.
“They can’t have open air concerts where they have large gatherings of people so they figured they were going to try to run it through the drive-ins since we were allowed to open with limited capacity,” Dennis said.
Sunset Drive In has also played graduation videos created in lieu of an in-person commencement ceremony for three area schools, General McLane, Fort LeBoeuf and North East.