Thursday, April 15, 2021
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Drive-in movies? Head to Hayden

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | April 24, 2020 1:14 AM

Test run was Thursday night in parking lot

A not-to-be-forgotten casualty of the coronavirus is the American movie industry. Production on almost all projects has been halted.

Premiere dates for summer blockbusters have been postponed. And movie theaters across the country — including here in Idaho — have shuttered altogether.

One noteworthy exception has been Hayden Discount Cinema, which adapted its business model several times after owners realized the movie-going experience would have to be put on hold. Hayden Discount management switched from open tickets to group bookings on March 19, limiting the number of attendees to within Gov. Brad Little’s recommendations. When gatherings were prohibited altogether, the popular discount theater closed its screenings but sold drive-up popcorn.

Now, manager Mike Lehosit innovated once more: He’s trying to continue the movie experience with a drive-in theater just outside Hayden Discount Cinema’s doors, starting with a dry run Thursday night.

“I was thinking of having three rows of cars,” Lehosit said of the lot directly north of his theater, “but the stalls against the building are just too close. So we were thinking about making it so people could back their trucks up and lay down in the back with blankets and watch the movie that way.”

There’s a lot to Lehosit’s plan that he’s still thinking about. He’s tinkering with how he’s going to sell concessions — he’s looking at delivery directly to patrons’ vehicles — and how often the theater’s going to run the drive-in.

“I’m thinking seven days a week,” he said. “With kids out of school, there’s a demand for it.”

Lehosit said that because Little’s phased lifting of restrictions de-prioritized movie theaters until late June, the Hayden cinema manager isn’t wasting any time.

Starting at dusk — officially 8:23 p.m. tonight, according to the almanac, though don’t be surprised if the movie starts at an even 8:30 p.m. — between 30 and 50 drivers can park with their loved ones and watch a film through the classic American drive-in experience. For now, Hayden Discount Cinemal will show one flick a night.

“This is just a way for us to keep giving people the movie experience while trying to stay in business,” he said.

Patrons can use the bathrooms inside, though one carload will be allowed to use the facilities at a time, with staff cleaning the facilities between uses.

Lehosit said he acquired permission to use an FM transmitter to distribute sound through car stereos. Tickets for this weekend’s showing — including tonight’s show — will be by donation only, though Lehosit said he plans to charge $10 for each carload in the future. The typically cash-only business will have an online ticketing system up shortly, most likely through its website at hdcmovies.com.

“This is a great way for people to go to the movies without having to worry about social distancing,” he said.

Outside of extra cash for popcorn, candy and soda, Lehosit asks participants of these early runs to bring one additional item to help out: patience.

Changes might include on-the-fly adjustments to how tickets are purchased, how concessions are delivered and how bathrooms are used. It’s a patience Lehosit said he himself is trying to keep. Little’s phased plan for Idaho to return to some version of an economic normal doesn’t address movie theaters until mid-June, but even then, Hayden Discount Theater will have to wait.

“The way we’re set up, we don’t get our movies until the end of their first runs, or if Regal [Riverstone] decides not to run something,” he said. “But with everybody delaying their releases, Hollywood isn’t releasing anything until the new Christopher Nolan movie [‘Tenet’] July 17, I think. After that, it’s ‘Mulan’, and then nothing for a little while … Things might not be back to normal for us until September or October.”

In the meantime, patrons can recommend — either on the company’s Facebook page or in person — ideas for classic films or classic film genres they’d like to see.

Lehosit added that studios like Paramount, Universal, Sony and Warner Bros. have been eager to help him keep his business going, as have patrons and businesses throughout the community.

“I just feel the love of this community up here,” he said. “When we needed to get a screen painted, Totem [Drywall and Paint out of Hayden] came right up, and they had it ready to go in about three hours. People have been so supportive. It’s been tough and humbling.”