Around the country, drive-in theaters are reopening as a socially distanced way of going to the movies — but Washington state’s five drive-ins remained closed.
“We’re ready to open, we’re doing all the safety precautions, all the CDC guidelines,” said Darrell Bratt, owner of the Blue Fox Drive-In in Oak Harbor.
On behalf of his theater and the four other drive-ins in the state (the Skyline in Shelton, the Rodeo in Bremerton, the Auto-Vue in Colville and the Wheel-In in Port Townsend), Bratt launched a change.org petition late last week that, as of this writing, has more than 54,000 signatures.
The petition asks that drive-in theaters be allowed to operate during the COVID-19 restrictions, arguing that it isn’t fair or consistent to consider a drive-in to be the equivalent of an indoor movie theater. It states that patrons would be isolated within their cars, food service is all-takeout, and that many other states have allowed drive-ins to remain open.
Bratt, who has owned the Blue Fox since 1988, said he and the other owners submitted to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office late last week a list of guidelines that their businesses would adhere to, asking to be allowed to immediately reopen. Those guidelines, he said, include operating at half-capacity, shutting down all play areas and outdoor dining tables, asking patrons to wear face coverings when not in their cars, paying careful attention to bathroom sanitizing and to the number of people in the bathrooms at one time, offering hand sanitizer stations and more. He said they have not yet received a reply.
Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Inslee’s office, said Tuesday in an emailed response to a Seattle Times query, “It is possible we could consider drive-in movie theaters in Phase 2. No decision has been made. As our plan mentions, the list provided in the phases is not exclusive.”
Faulk was referring to the governor’s plan to reopen the state’s economy in four phases. At this point, the earliest expected date for the opening of Phase 2 is June 1 for the counties that four of the five drive-ins are located in. The Auto-Vue in Colville, Stevens County, is in one of eight counties approved to move forward to Phase 2 now.
Bratt had hoped to reopen the Blue Fox last week with a free screening of the faith-based movie “I Still Believe,” after the governor’s office announced that some drive-up spiritual services would be allowed. But he canceled after receiving guidelines from the state that required, among other things, that no one be allowed to leave their cars. He called those restrictions “a gut punch,” pointing out that state parks are open and people are allowed to leave their cars.
Though some of Washington’s drive-in theaters are seasonal, the Blue Fox normally is open all year round, with a busy spring/summer season making up for the quiet of fall and winter. Bratt is worried that if the theater can’t open soon, “there’s not enough summer left to make it.” But he said he is heartened by the response to the petition.
“In four days, over 50,000. That’s huge for a small town,” he said. “We have a good following. People want us to survive.”