When Muskoka Drive-In owner William Alexander took to Facebook to share his growing concern about the business, fans of the drive-in responded in a big way by sharing the post more than 7,000 times in a matter of days.
Alexander has owned the drive-in on Theatre Road in Gravenhurst since 2009, but the drive-in itself has over 70 years of history. The rock jutting into the screen gave the drive-in its “meet you at the rock” slogan, but despite its iconic screen and loyal fans, the business has seen tough times over the last few years. Alexander decided to share his thoughts online earlier this week after seeing the business start heading toward “the danger zone.” He didn’t want to scare his customers, but he wanted to remind them how important their support is to the business.
“I put it out there just to make sure that they remember we’re here and that anybody who was thinking about coming or wanting to come or hadn’t been in a while, this was their time to support the drive-in,” he said.
Along with receiving thousands of shares, he started to get calls from individuals and businesses offering money and other support. He politely declined the cash offers, but it was amazing for him to see the community rally around his business. He hopes the positivity will make for a busy weekend and a successful rest of the summer.
“We ensure that the community is served by this drive-in, and it’s nice to see the community come back and help us now,” Alexander said.
The drive-in has hosted a range of fundraisers, food drives and other charity events over the years. They’ve also offered their space up for stag and doe parties along with lending the grounds to any businesses that needed it throughout the pandemic. In addition, the drive-in is home to a community market every Sunday.
The business makes some money renting out the grounds, but most of its profits come from the snack bar. Since movie companies take anywhere from 35 to 70 per cent of profits from the box office, the drive-in’s rule against outside food and drinks is meant to help them recoup their costs through concession sales.
In spite of the nostalgia, the number of drive-in movie theatres is dwindling. Most drive-ins are in more populated areas like Oakville, Barrie or London, so the Muskoka Drive-In faces the unique challenge of existing in rural Ontario.
“They’re able to draw upon other areas… We don’t really have that,” Alexander said. “We have a bunch of smaller communities that we draw on, and we have tourists that come up through the summer, and so it takes us a lot more to get people to come out.”
As wonderful and magical as normal movie theatres are, drive-ins offer a completely different kind of experience, Alexander said. People start to relax as soon as they enter the gate. Kids in pajamas run off to play at the park while their parents watch on and chat.
During the movies, families have the freedom to talk as much or as little as they want without worrying about other moviegoers. People can also smoke, eat or cuddle up with a blanket in the comfort of their cars, or if they aren’t enjoying the movie, they can step out under a sky full of stars. While the location may limit its audience to some extent, it also gives the drive-in some of its most unique features.
“Being that our drive-in is surrounded by trees, you don’t feel like it’s just concrete and steel,” he said. “This drive-in is quite unique, and when you see that cement screen on top of the giant rock, you’ll never see that anywhere else, on any other drive-in in North America.”
The screens, and the rock itself, were just repainted, and a new and improved mini-putt course will be ready within the next couple of weeks. The arcade area will also be back in action this weekend after Alexander had a new floor installed. All the small improvements are part and parcel of his goal to keep making the drive-in as enjoyable as possible for all of its patrons.
One of the best parts of the drive-in, according to Alexander, is that no family member has to be left out. With nearly five acres of park, there’s plenty of space for dogs and other pets to roam around. All the team at the drive-in asks is that pet owners keep their animals on a leash and in control and that they make sure to clean up after them.
“We get lots of dogs coming out, we’ve had the odd cat on a leash, and two weeks ago, we had a trained pet pig on a leash,” Alexander said. “That was pretty amazing. They could circle and sit on command. Pretty wild.”
Unique pets aren’t the only special sight at the drive-in. Recently, moviegoers had a second more celestial show to watch alongside their film.
“A month and a half ago, we actually had a bit of a meteor shower happening behind screen one,” he said. “As people were watching the movie, there were meteors streaking across the top of the screen behind it.”
Whether there are meteor showers in the forecast or not, he hopes the people who love the drive-in will come for a night at the theatre and create a domino effect by telling their friends to tag along. The longtime supporters of the theatre feel like family, Alexander said, and one of the benefits of being a more mom-and-pop style business is they get to know and love their supporters.
This weekend, the theatre is showing Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and The Boogeyman on screen one. Screen two will feature Disney’s Elemental and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The rest of the season will include titles like Mission: Impossible, Barbie, Meg 2: The Trench and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Alexander hopes the lineup will bring in both new and familiar faces.
“There are tons of films still to come,” he said. “I hope they’ll come to the drive-in and experience them on our big screens.”