Drive in movie theaters are making a comeback amid the need for social distancing.
They’re emerging in empty parking lots that were once jam-packed with shoppers’ vehicles at local shopping centers and regional malls, which have been hard hit by the pandemic. The idea helps support retailers as it brings in much-needed customers, while shoppers get to enjoy a movie or virtual concert as part of their trip.
National Real Estate Investor reported that a number of mall operators are using their parking lots to uncover new business streams.
“At the start of COVID, one of the things we talked about when we were shutting our centers [was that] we’re a real estate company and how do we leverage the rest of our real estate, which would include our parking lots,” Michelle Snyder, senior vice president, and chief marketing officer for Brookfield Properties’ retail group, told the National Real Estate Investor.
Kilburn Live, a division of Kilburn Media, later approached Brookfield about leasing some of its parking lot space in order to create drive-in cinemas at several of its malls.
“We’re a real estate company, so Kilburn is one of our tenants and they do all the turnkey business,” Snyder said. “They handle the technology, the movies, and the ability to stream via Bluetooth in your car. They really arranged everything.”
The pop-up cinemas have emerged at several Brookfield centers, in Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis and five other locations in the U.S. And the company plans to add 20 more by August, and 32 soon after that.
“Malls really are trying to do all they can to help their tenants,” Mark Manuel, Kilburn’s CEO, told the National Real Estate Investor. “They’re trying to find ways to drive traffic to help their current tenants and [pop-up drive-ins] are doing a great job of that.”
Those who go to the movies can choose to shop or grab dinner or lunch at the food court, or, if they’re not comfortable about entering the mall, they can order food and have it delivered to their vehicles. Brookfield has also create several outdoor counters for those who wish to order meals from the food court.
“We’re working as much as we can with our tenants to really help them drive their sales and their success,” Snyder said.
Broofield isn’t alone in doing this. Walmart has similar plans to transform 160 of its store parking lots into drive-in movie theaters starting in August. To do so, it’s partnering with Tribeca Enterprises, and will have movies showing in its parking lots until at least October. Admission to the movies will be free, and moviegoers will be able to buy picnic items and snacks from Walmart at curbside stores it will set up.
“Doing drive-ins like it’s 2020 rather than 1960” will be important, said Ricardo Rubi, a retail marketing specialist and partner at Simon-Kucher & Partners, a New York-based consulting firm. “Creating an omnichannel experience in the drive-in could be a big driver of success.”
He added that mall owners and retailers will need to find ways to encourage consumers to not just go to the parking lot but also inside to their stores or at least capture the trip with curbside service for food or products.