Businesses trying to revive drive-ins amid pandemic met with hurdles, fines from township

Paul Kurtz
May 26, 2020 - 5:10 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gina Shubert had hoped to provide some sense of normalcy for her loyal patrons at Maggio’s restaurant in Southampton Township, as her business and many others face unprecedented restrictions. 

She came up with the idea to set up a pop-up drive-in movie theater in the parking lot of the Hampton Square Shopping Center.

Related: Sign up for KYW Newsradio's daily newsletter for the latest on the coronavirus pandemic across the Philadelphia region.

“Parking lot’s empty, there’s no other (open) stores here, customers would love it,” she said.

With the ability to socialize in public from the safety of your own car, drive-ins are quickly becoming all the rage amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

But it’s also proving to be a risky venture for Shubert and other business owners who have tried to provide a sense of community and entertainment. 

Before going through with the idea, Shubert made the mistake of asking Southampton Township supervisors for permission to host the drive-in.

“They said since it’s considered entertainment and not essential, I would need a waiver from Gov. Wolf,” she said.

Waivers were due back in early April.

Rather than risk a hefty fine and her liquor license, Shubert tabled the pop-up concept. 

Jeff Siuta, owner of The West End in Quakertown, didn’t seek approval from township supervisors. Instead, they came to him, after they got wind of his plan to roll out a series of drive-in concerts in his spacious parking lot.

“The township called me to let me know there was a complaint,” Siuta said. “The following day, the (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board), the State Police and the Health Department contacted me to let me know that all of this does not follow the governor’s orders.”

Siuta wanted to kick off Memorial Day with a weekend of concerts and other events in the parking lot.

“We really went above and beyond to try to prove to everyone that we can do this in a manner that is safe,” he added, “much more safe than going to BJ’s or Lowe’s or Giant and having 900 people in the store.”

Siuta said they're going back to curbside pickup to try to stay afloat, because the “punishment was too great for what we were trying to do.”

Asking for permission doesn’t seem to be a viable option at this point, and neither does asking for forgiveness. Perhaps the lesson here: Don’t get caught. 

One Upper Bucks County pub owner, who did not want to be identified, has been rolling the dice for the past few weeks, successfully offering patrons viewings of “The Sandlot” along with their takeout orders. He has room for about 25 cars.

“After you pick up your food, if you want to eat your food in the parking lot there’s gonna be a movie playing, no charge. Stay as little or as long as you like,” he said. “It’s worked out great.”

He said the reward of offering a free drive-in movie with takeout is well worth the risk.

“It’s given people a sense of pride in their community, and I think it’s given our employees a sense of purpose again.”

He plans to continue showing drive-in movies even after restaurants are allowed to reopen.