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An unexpected side effect of COVID-19: The resurgence of drive-in movie theaters

Families are seeing the drive-in movie theater as a safe way to escape their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

DILLSBURG, Pa. — Magic at the movies is alive again and drive-ins are taking the spotlight away from indoor theaters.

“We put the online tickets on sale I believe on Tuesday evening and we were sold out within 24 hours,” said Vickie Hardy, co-owner of Haar’s Drive-In Theatre in Dillsburg, York County.

Haar’s Drive-In has been in Hardy’s family for three generations. Her grandfather built the theater in 1952. At the time, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters nationwide. 

The country's first drive-in movie theater opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey. Today, only a fraction of them still exist, but many drive-in theaters are seeing a resurgence this Memorial Day weekend.

“As soon as I saw they were open, I jumped on it,” said Michele Gunnet of Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County.

Hundreds of families saw the drive-in theater as a safe way to escape their homes as York County enters the yellow phase of reopening. Haar’s Drive-In is adapting to a new normal. Hardy said they digitized ticket sales and created an app for online food ordering.

“We tell them when it’s ready for pick-up. Then, they come here with consideration of the social distancing and wearing their masks,” explained Hardy.

RELATED: Here's what to expect as 12 more Pa. counties reopen ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Haar’s Drive-In is reducing its occupancy by 50 percent, only allowing 250 cars into each show to adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

“Typically, we fit two vehicles between our speaker posts,” Hardy added. “Due to social distancing, we’re only parking one vehicle between the speaker posts.”

Though families are looking for entertainment in a safe environment, coronavirus is only partly pushing the box office.

Deion Eldridge and Samantha Gunnet, who live in Harrisburg, said they previously have waited in line for hours to ensure they get into Haar’s Drive-In. 

“And we’ve waited, got turned away, came back the next night and got here even earlier to wait in line,” said Gunnet.

Needless to say, the couple is grateful the drive-in launched online ticket sales this year.

RELATED: All of Pennsylvania poised for at least a partial reopening in next two weeks

Once inside the gate, families set up tables and chairs. Some people play cards while others bring board games to pass the time. As the sun goes down and the clouds roll in, the crowd’s attention turns to the night’s double feature—a projection of making a comeback.

“We know that we can persevere,” said Hardy. “We know that we can adapt to change and we also know that we can follow the guidelines. I never had a fear that we were not going to open.”

Check the Haar's Drive-In website and Facebook page for information on showtimes, ticket sales and movies.