Coronavirus Illinois: McHenry drive-in theater reopens Friday with free admission

MCHENRY, Ill. (WLS) -- The McHenry Outdoor Theater, the Chicago area's only drive-in movie theater, reopened Friday, bringing eager moviegoers back to the golden age... or the Stone Age, really.

The Chicago area's only drive in hosted a screening of "The Flintstones" Friday night, welcoming more than 300 cars for a breath of fresh air and many people's first outdoor leisure activity since March.

"It feels great," said Tomas Ignoffo, moviegoer. "The first time is extra special."

The fresh air felt crisp and a little extra freeing on Friday night, even if it looks different.

"it's honestly amazing just seeing everyone with all these masks," Ignoffo said.

"There are no new release movies, so I can't play the new Star Wars, Marvel movie. So I'm playing 'Flintstones' and 'Jurassic Park.' I look out and see all these cars parked, waiting to get in to see a movie from 1994," said owner Scott Dehn. "They probably have these at home, but I get it. You want to get out."

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Cars lined up for hours to get in. Seven weeks inside will build that kind of anticipation.

"It's an escape. That's really what it is," Dehn said.

While social distancing is keeping indoor movie theaters closed, Dehn got permission to open his drive-in with a number of safety precautions.

After extensive discussions with state and county health officials, Dehn is restricting the drive-in to 350 vehicles, less than half of his normal capacity. Those vehicles will be socially distanced and the concession stands will be closed. He will also have extensive cleaning procedures in place.
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"We can normally fit 750-plus vehicles in this lot," he said. "To keep vehicles socially distance at 14 feet apart, we can only sell to 350 vehicles."

But none of those vehicles will have to pay for entrance. Ray Scarpelli, owner of Ray Chevrolet in Fox Lake, decided it was such a good opportunity for people to get out, he is sponsoring the first night so everyone gets in free.
"I wish I could see all their faces," Scarpelli said. "It will be fun when they found out they've been taken care of. It feels good to spread a little happiness."

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Concessions are more like golf cart delivery, or bring your own. But it's social. And it's a touch of normal in a new world.

"You'd see a bunch of kids running around playing," moviegoer Yvette Argueta said. "It's a different atmosphere with the pandemic."

The lack of concessions and limited crowd will keep Dehn from making a profit, but it will keep his 15 part-time workers employed.

He's hoping to be able to expand capacity later this summer.

"The hope is to break even and to hopefully get through a season and fight another day come next year hopefully when this whole pandemic is over.

The theater is only going to be open on weekends until Memorial Day Weekend. But they'll be keeping busy through the week, too, as they host drive-in graduation ceremonies for all of the local schools up until then.

For more information on McHenry Outdoor Theater's reopening, visit: goldenagecinemas.com.
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