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Sunset Drive-In makes a comeback

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the sunset drive-in
The Sunset Drive-In marquee. Photo by Ellie Amesse

The Sunset Drive-In is one of San Luis Obispo’s (SLO) most iconic businesses, and has recently become a very popular entertainment option in the county. 

Currently, SLO County is in the red tier in terms of COVID-19 cases. According to Gov. Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, this means that movie theaters have the ability to open at a capacity of 25%, or 100 people (whichever is less). Because of this, a drive-in theater, such as the Sunset, is still able to turn a lot of profit. 

Ordinarily, the Sunset Drive-In has space for 600 cars. Right now, movie-goers can only use every other space, which means that there is room for about 300 cars. Although the drive-in is not operating at full capacity, hundreds of people can still come and see a movie relatively safely. 

Since it first opened in 1950, it has been a go-to location for things like family outings, date nights, and get-togethers with friends. Due to the fact that most walk-in theaters are still closed, increased numbers of SLO locals have come to the drive-in to enjoy a movie, a night out, and a sense of community. 

“I think SLO is lucky to still have a drive-in to go to,” said Paige Anderson, a sophomore at Cal Poly. 

The Sunset Drive-In is reportedly one of just 18 drive-in theaters still operating in California. Across the country, the number of drive-in theaters has declined since the height of their popularity in the ‘50s and ‘60s. However, it seems that the pandemic has led to a rise in popularity for the Sunset Drive-In and other drive-in theaters. 

In March, the Sunset had to shut its doors for the first time in nearly 70 years. They received the okay to open at the end of April, but waited several weeks in order to ensure the safety of movie-goers and staff. They officially reopened for business in May. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” said Larry Rodkey, owner of Sunset Drive-In. 

Many businesses have had to make adjustments for COVID-19, and the Sunset is no exception. The business is enforcing six foot social distancing, and a policy of having no more than three people at the snack bar or bathroom at one time. 

“We’re watching it pretty close,” Rodkey said. “Bathrooms seem to be a headache every once in a while, but we’re watching those too.” 

Many movies that were planned to be released in 2020 have been put on hold due to the lack of theaters to play them in. Instead of new movies, the Sunset has been playing older movies, like “Men in Black,” “Hocus Pocus” and “Monsters, Inc.” 

“All the new movies from this past year are not coming out,” Rodkey said. 

The lack of new movies has not been bad for business at the drive-in, however. Older films have been drawing large crowds. 

“The old movies are doing very well,” Rodkey said.  

Though it is the largest drive-in in the area, the Sunset is not the only place to go to the movies. According to a press release, the JCC-Federation of SLO hosted a screening of “Young Frankenstein”  on Oct. 31.

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