Central Alberta cafe turns into drive-in movie theatre amid COVID-19 restrictions
RED DEER -- A cafe turned into a drive-in movie theatre in central Alberta is back in service.
The Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., is a cafe, convenience store, gas station, and RV park.
However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the family-run business was looking at hard times after the closure its dining room significantly reduced revenue.
“As a business owner, you always got to roll with the punches, but when your business has to be closed to your patrons, that’s a pretty big punch,” said the owner, Christopher Scott.
Scott had bought the business in July from a friend after working in the oil patch for 20 years.
He decided to open up the free drive-in movie theatre to occupy his time after customers complained about being stuck at home.
“The idea came when customers came in and they were talking a lot about how they’re going stir crazy being locked in their house,” said Scott.
“And somebody said theatre and it kind of clicked.”
With no budget, Scott invested in a small inflatable theatre screen and a projector. He said it started off slow but by the third week he had 60 cars on average for each movie night.
So, when Alberta Health Services contacted Scott at the end of April and said he had to shut the drive-in movie theatre down, he was devastated.
“I was depressed for a day or so as anybody would be.”
The main reason behind AHS’s decision was because gatherings were exceeding their 15-person maximum, Scott said.
Frustrated, Scott went to Facebook and asked the cafe’s followers to share their feelings about the closure with AHS.
“I said, 'If anyone has a problem with this, here are the contact numbers of who you need to reach out to.'”
Four days later, AHS emailed him and said he could open up the theatre as long as he followed strict health guidelines. According to Scott, parked cars and people must remain at least two metres apart, only one member per family can enter the store or approach the food window, people must not congregate outside their vehicles, shows must be limited to around two hours with no double features, and washrooms must remain closed during movies.
“People were messaging and congratulating us,” said Scott.
Their first show back was on Saturday where more than 50 cars were present. With the help of his friends, Scott built a larger temporarily-fixed screen on Monday. He plans to continue the service even after COVID-19 restrictions ease.
“We’ll find out what people want and we’ll just continue to provide the service.”
Scott accepts donations to help cover licensing costs and plans to donate the excess funds to a charity of his choice.