At a time when cineplexes everywhere are closed, one local theater is thriving.
The West Wind Glendale 9 Drive-In is open for business and screening films nightly, giving Valley residents the chance to catch films on the big screen while maintaining social distance in their vehicles.
There's been a big turnout in recent weeks. With every other metro Phoenix cinema shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, locals have flocked to the nine-screen drive-in near 55th Avenue and Bethany Home Road in Glendale to see flicks like Onward and Fantasy Island.
There's a catch: West Wind’s owners have restrictions in place for each screening.
Patrons must remain in their cars or stay in the beds of pickup trucks or the cargo areas of vans and SUVs at all times during screenings. Vehicles must be spaced 10 feet apart. The snack bar and playground are closed, and a limited number of people can visit the restrooms at one time. Employees patrol the property in golf carts to ensure everyone’s following the rules. Those that don’t are immediately asked to leave.
Even with the restrictions, people have been coming to the West Wind Glendale 9 in droves.
While Phoenix New Times has been unable to reach the drive-in’s management or owners despite repeated attempts to get exact attendance figures, recent screenings we’ve attended have been very busy. (West Wind’s weekly Tuesday evening Family Fun Night on March 24, which features discounted admission, had more than 200 vehicles in attendance.)
Ernie Quiroz, a Valley resident and New Times contributor, says it's one the busiest periods he’s seen at the theater, which first opened in 1979.
“I've gone to that drive-in plenty of times growing up here, but I’ve rarely seen this many people here before,” Quiroz says. “As far as I could tell, everyone has been staying in their cars and obeying the rules. There were some people that had set up outside [their car] on lawn chairs, but once the movie started, a golf cart came by and right after those people packed up and got back into their car.”
The West Wind Glendale 9 has been the only drive-in still operating in Arizona since 2013. Now, it’s the only game in town for those wanting to see a movie on a screen larger than a television or personal device.
The West Wind isn’t the only drive-in that’s experienced a resurgence in recent weeks. Similar outdoor theaters across the country are reportedly doing big business during the COVID-19 outbreak while maintaining social-distancing restrictions.
Darlene Stoudt of Tempe attended a recent double feature of The Invisible Man and The Hunt at the West Wind Glendale 9 with her husband, Richard.
“We’re big movie buffs and love going out to a theater, so it’s been kind of hard for us being cooped up all the time,” she says. “We understand why we have to do it and we're trying to do our part, but when we realized we could see a movie in our cars and stay safe, we were like, ‘Let’s go to the drive-in. I’ve been going stir-crazy a little bit.’”
Stoudt says they didn’t mind the restrictions involved and planned accordingly. The restrictions are also why the West Wind hasn’t run afoul of the city of Glendale. On March 18, Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers issued an emergency proclamation asking businesses in the city to follow recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid having public gatherings.
Jay Crandall, a spokesperson for the city of Glendale, told New Times in a recent email that the theater isn’t breaking any rules by showing movies to the public with restrictions.
“Because the drive-in operator is enforcing recommended social-distance practices, they are not in violation of the city’s recent emergency proclamation,” Crandall says.
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(The drive-in will also continue showing movies despite Arizona Governor Doug Ducey's recent stay-at-home order. According to a comment on its Facebook page on Monday night, the theater plans to be open for business on Tuesday.)
West Wind’s sister theaters in neighboring states haven’t been as lucky. Syufy Enterprises, the Bay Area-based company that owns the West Wind Glendale 9, has been forced to close other drive-ins it owns in California and Nevada due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
Stoudt is just happy to hear that the Valley’s drive-in theater will be open, and she and her husband can still go see films there.
“It's just nice to get out and do something fun while staying safe,” she says. “It’s like two things, getting to see the movies and you getting to leave your house.”