Cars fill the parking lot of the Beacon Theatre behind Choctaw Plaza last Tuesday night for the Beacon’s first “temporary drive-in.”

The first week of the Beacon Theatre’s “temporary drive-in” worked out so well, owner Charlie Watzke said Tuesday, he hopes to keep it going even after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

“It’s a big hit!” Watzke said Tuesday. “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and thank me and shake my hand. … And it’s helping us survive right now.”

Watzke temporarily shut down the Beacon in mid-March in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Tate Reeves’ “shelter-in-place” order, which listed theaters as “non-essential” businesses.

Watzke and his family have owned theaters — both indoor and drive-in — for the past three generations. 

He began his drive to open a temporary drive-in in mid-April, but the city of Waveland wouldn’t let him.

“The issue is, the order that the governor put out included movie theaters — both inside and outside — as a non-essential business,” Waveland Mayor Mike Smith said at the time. “It’s not that we don’t want it — I think it would be a cool idea. But I can’t do less than what the governor puts out, because that would contradict his order.”

Technically, Watzke said, the city still hasn’t signed off on his plan. However, Reeves has since modified the “Shelter in Place” plan to “Safer at Home,” allowing non-essential businesses a little more latitude to operate, although they must still follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

“The last time I spoke with the governor’s office, they said it was okay with them if the mayor was okay with it,” Watzke said. “Mike posted on Facebook that he would love to see it, so I’m going for it. I need the money and the people in this town need some place to go.”

The first night of the temporary drive-in got off to a bit of a rocky start — termites started swarming just as the movie started rolling.

“We still have a few bugs to work out,” Watzke dead-panned in the middle of the swarm. The next day, he got a fogger to keep the mosquitoes and termites to a minimum.

“We still have a problem with bad weather — I can’t operate the projector in the rain,” he said Tuesday. “We sort of lost last Friday night because of the weather and there are a few bad nights In a row coming up next week (in the forecast), but I’m looking at getting a shed I can put the projector in to keep it safe from the water.”

For now, Watzke said, there’s no indication from the governor’s office when indoor cinemas can resume, but he’s planning to keep the temporary drive-in going as long as possible.

“I’d consider keeping it going even after we get going again inside the theater, maybe have a double feature out in the parking lot,” he said. “I’m getting the asphalt fixed. I’d also consider working with an investor on building a full-time drive-in theater somewhere else in the county. I think drive-ins are going to be the big thing again.”

The cost is $5 per person. The concession stand inside the theater is open.

“I keep asking people to not bring their own food,” Watzke said. “We need people to buy the concessions so we can afford to pay the bills and keep this going.”

On Thursday, May 14, he’s scheduled “Jaws” and “Ghost Rider.” On Friday, the line-up is “Cars” and “Kong:Skull Island.” Saturday’s showing will be “Terminator” and “Aliens.” On Sunday, the Beacon will show “The Indian in the Cupboard” and “Jurassic Park 3.”

The Beacon has an FM transmitter that makes the movies’ sound available on your car radio at 107.3.

Beacon Theatre is located behind McDonald’s in Waveland. For more, call 228-342-1346 or check out Beacon Theatres on Facebook.

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