RIDGEFIELD, CT — While the crippling effect the coronavirus will have on the economy has yet to be fully measured, the glass-half-full crowd has already begun to tally the business sectors which stand to benefit from the pandemic. Videoconferencing, remote education, virtual reality, telemedicine (or tele-anything, really) are all among the cutting-edge businesses having cash hurled at them by investors who couldn’t even spell “Zoom” three months ago.
Basking in a retro-neon glow amidst all the new shiny movers taking our money to keep us apart, and enjoying renewed popularity across the country, are drive-in movie theaters. And Billy Craig, owner of Craig’s Fine Jewelry, has figured out a way to bring one to Ridgefield.
Craig, who has been co-chair of the annual Holiday Walk for decades, called in the markers of several local business people to bring his brainstorm to life. Pamme Jones, executive director of The Theater Barn, Kathy Graham, vice president and branch manager of the Fairfield County Bank on Main Street, and Allison Stockel, executive director of the Ridgefield Playhouse, all lent their expertise to the ambitious endeavor. Another key contributor is Andrew Kolaski, owner of A Plus Audio Visual in town, who was charged with making everything work.
Like Ridgefield itself, the drive-in theater is a quintessential bit of Americana. Motorists watched the first films from their cars just a few years before the last U.S. pandemic. The Theatre de Guadalupe flashed flicks for the folks in their flivvers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, beginning in 1915. For the next 30 years or so, the industry grew in fits and starts, finally catching on during the post-World War II car boom. Video began to slowly kill the drive-in stars in the 60s, and the gas crunch and skyrocketing real estate prices chiseled the industry down to a shadow of its former greatness in the 70s, where it has remained, until the current pandemic. According to movie industry trade paper “Variety,” the 300 drive-ins that still exist in the U.S. have been the “rare bright spots for the exhibition industry” since the outbreak of the virus.
Craig said he noodled around a few different ideas for the movie screen until settling upon the 40 by 20 fo0t behemoth scheduled to go up in the Ridgefield High School parking lot. There, even the cars will stay socially distanced, with parking allowed only in every space during the showings. And don’t go looking for those charmingly clunky external audio speakers you’ve seen in the old movies: these days, drive-in theater audio is delivered to your ride’s stereo on its own FM channel.
The outdoor summer film series has movies scheduled every Saturday in June (see schedule below), but Craig told Patch he thought his idea had legs and could get held over, possibly through August.
After that? Craig said he hopes the Prospector Theater will be back open and prospering, and his drive-in theater can go the way of the hula hoop.
June 6: “Legally Blonde” (sponsored by Fairfield County Bank)
June 13: “Dirty Dancing” (sponsored by the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance)
June 20: “Grease” (sponsored by The Ridgefield Playhouse)
June 27: “Field of Dreams” (sponsored by Downtown Ridgefield Member Merchants)
All showings are free, first come/first served, and begin at 9 p.m., in the Ridgefield High School parking lot by the entrance to the gym. Moviegoers must enter the lot off of Route 116. Per the governor’s Executive Order, all moviegoers must stay in their cars as any outdoor event with people gathering together outside is permissible for 50 people or less.
This article originally appeared on the Ridgefield Patch