SYDNEY — A lot of businesses may be announcing reopening but now comes the bigger picture.
The Cape Breton Drive-In Theatre in Sydney opens June 5.
Angelo Sifnakis, part-owner, said he’s excited to confirm they will be opening June 5 at 7:45 p.m. with the latest Jumanji movie and Bad Boys for Life.
“We’ll have the most recent and popular movies in the past few years this summer,” he said.
However, with the COVID-19 crisis and health directives in place, it will impact business so in order to remain open, Sifnakis said they’ll need the public’s support more than ever.
“I enjoy entertaining people and want to have the drive-in open so there will be places to go,” he said. “I’m taking a chance and will need the public to support it.”
Plans this year were to include a second screen to be able to provide every major movie throughout the season.
However, because the major film companies decided to stop releasing movies due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing indoor theatres across the world, it wouldn’t be feasible, he said.
A for sale sign suddenly appearing on the property of the Cape Breton Drive-In Theatre recently caused a lot of worried comments on Facebook.
Sifnakis said people do not need to worry about the sign.
The drive-in was opened July 10, 1975 by his parents James and Toula Sifnakis.
“It’s in my blood. I love entertaining people,” Angelo Sifnakis said.
The drive-in was always a big part of the community as well over the years, including with much-loved canteen now painted green and yellow, following a partnership formed with Cape Breton University five years ago.
Sifnakis said after 45 years, he’s at a point where he wants to enjoy life.
“I’ve missed all those weddings and parties that people love to do all their lives,” he said. "Now that I’m approaching 65 years, I want a chance to enjoy life.”
However, Sifnakis said he also wants to ensure the drive-in remains an entity and when it sells, he’s willing to stay on to be able to provide support and his experience.
“It’s important to me to sell to the right people who can carry on as a theatre,” he said.
“The way I look at it, it’s a legacy to my father...to the Sifnakis family. We’ve been entertaining people in the food and entertainment business all our lives and want to keep that tradition going.”
When Alywn Jeddore of Whitney Pier saw a notice posted on the drive-in’s Facebook page saying they’d be making an announcement soon, he posted: 'This is truly made my day.'
“I’m willing to follow whatever restrictions there are for the drive-in,” he posted. “I’ll even watch movies from the ’80s, I don’t care.”
When contacted by the Post before the opening was announced, Jeddore said he and wife Conchetta have been together 11 years and the drive-in is a tradition.
“When we first met, that was one of our first places to go,” he said. “It just became something we would do almost every other weekend. I love the food at the drive-in, too, and it’s so affordable.”
Jeddore said at the same time, it creates memories. Memories that keep increasing.
Nine years ago, they were then joined by their first child Ryan and five years ago, daughter Lila.
Now Jeddore said they’re hoping the drive-in will open soon so they can take their 8-month old son, Khai.
“He hasn’t been able to be there yet but hopefully he’ll have a chance to have his first experience now.”
Normally — weather permitting — the drive-in opens the first weekend of May until mid-October or the first of November.
This year, COVID-19 has made an impact. Sifnakis said he had to think of his own health and of the health of his staff as part of the decision whether to open.
“Most of my staff have been here for over 40-years,” he said. “Most of us are over 60-years-old so health is a major concern.”
As well, he said with social distancing and the health regulations in place, he had to speak with governing bodies to determine steps needed.
In the past, the drive-in has employed 16-17 people but now there will be as many as 20-24 from the canteen to crowd control.
Sifnakis said they will be enforcing the public health protocols of social distancing and safe practices.
“It’s supposed to be a fun safe night and that’s how we’ll keep it.”
As soon as people enter the drive-in, they will get a notice outlining what is expected. Cash will be accepted but they are encouraging debit or credit.
The drive-in can accommodate upwards of 440 vehicles, now will be limited to about 200-225. Instead of two cars between speaker poles as in the past, there will be one.
Sifnakis said that will cut their crowds down by 50 percent.
“We will also have four designated spots for handicap parking by the canteen.”
There will be hand sanitizer stations for people before entering the canteen and social distancing measures in place at the canteen and washrooms and six porta-potties all around the drive-in.
Sifnakis said people will be able to order food from their vehicles. They can text an order, pay for it and have it delivered to their car.
“As well, we’ll have someone with a laptop going around to cars if they want to place an order. It’s something I wanted to actually have in place last year.”
However, with a 50 per cent decline in admissions, extra staff and other measures, he said it won’t be easy to make the drive-in sustainable.
“I’m hoping there will be government grants available, but I can’t rely on that,” he said. “In order for the drive-in to succeed, we need people’s support in the canteen.”
Sifnakis said for 45 years, they have kept the admission and canteen prices reasonable to provide an affordable night out.
“For $40, a family of four can not only see two movies but you can also buy a lot of treats,” he added.
In the meantime, the drive-in will be creating many other memories for people this year. Sifnakis said they are getting unique requests for events and has hired Lindsay McKinnon of Glace Bay as their communications officer.
“There is so much we can do, grad parties, weddings, and even video shows with music,” he said, adding concerts are being planned for the summer.
“We are trying to come up with creative ways to provide a safe and enjoyable evening out.
McKinnon is excited about the position, adding she will be the main contact for any events.
“We’re trying to expand a little bit with community events and host different things people might be interested in,” she said.
Always a fan of the drive-in, McKinnon has been going there since she was a little girl. In fact, many of her family members have worked there. Her father Jerry has been the projectionist for more than 20 years.
“It’s something that has always been a staple in my life.”
McKinnon said anyone with requests on events or activities can email her at Cbdiprojection@outlook.com.
THEY ARE GETTING READY
Meanwhile, many people are already making drive-in plans.
“I’m so happy right now,” said Sherrie McNeil of Sydney, upon being informed the drive-in will be opening. McNeil had commented on Facebook her love for the outings.
“I started going as a little girl and now I take my little girl,” she said.
“We need to get out right now and we need places to go but the drive-in is much more than just getting out. It’s a tradition.”
Joel Anderson of Glace Bay said he will be there the first day it opens with his wife and two sons.
“Then every time a new show is on, we’ll be back.”
Anderson said the drive-in is a family favourite night out.
“Next to camping, this is the place all four of us want to be. It’s a relaxing night of family bonding.”
Nelson White and wife Betty of Sydney will also be there June 5 but Nelson said they won’t be alone.
“Our terrier ‘Harry ‘likes the night out too,” he added.
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