Drive in

People watch a movie on Saturday night at the 25 Auto Drive In in Greenwood. With traditional movie theaters shuttered because of the coronavirus, the drive-in theater has become an entertainment option.

There are just three drive-in movie theaters in South Carolina.

What once was a dying industry has taken on new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Greenwood’s Auto 25 Drive In, which is celebrating 75 years of service, allows people to enjoy the movie experience while staying in their cars and practicing social distancing.

Owners Tommy and Carolyn McCutcheon and son Tom are showing triple features on their three screens each Friday and Saturday, starting at 7:45 p.m. They also are working with local churches that are affected by the virus to put on Sunday services on the theater grounds.

“We’ve been keeping track with things since about January,” Tom said. “It just seems like a really good thing to have right now because all of the churches are closed. We’re really hoping we can at least get some people out here to have service on Sundays. There’s a lot of fear and anxiety going on right now.”

Legacy City Church had services there Sunday morning. The McCutcheons are also in talks with other churches, including North Side Baptist, about possible services.

“A lot of people don’t have church homes, but they need Jesus right now,” Carolyn said. “There is church down in Florida called the Drive-in Church, and the theater is not there anymore, but they have regular Sunday church services. They probably have 500 cars.”

Tom said people are in shock right now and the “world has flipped upside down in the past two weeks.”

“We went from a world where you didn’t worry about shaking someone’s hand to thinking twice about it,” Tom said. “We have such a large area that’s made for people to be able to spread out but still have a communal experience.”

On Friday night, the theater had about 20 cars per field. That number had grown by Saturday night.

“It’s a six-hour experience right now,” Tom said. “It’s a great way to get out of your house and see something different other than watching paint peel.”

“This is Greenwood’s original entertainment theater,” Tommy said. “We never left. I bought it in 2008. It was a one-screen drive-in then, and I bought all the land around it and Tom and I made three screens out of it.”

The drive-in serves food and drinks, with free refills. Tom said his team is taking precautions.

“A lot of the same things that you see with the food preparation with this new cororanvius, it’s no different than with the flu,” Tom said. “We have gloves on. We’re washing our hands anyways. It’s not extraordinarily different than what you’re already having.”

As for church services, Tom said there are a lot of elderly people who are in fear but want to stay connected to their religion.

“They’re not leaving their house,” he said. “They are afraid to go out in public. They’re having groceries and stuff delivered to their home, and they need a place where they can at least look out the windows and see that they are not alone.

“We’re able to do something great right now, and that’s getting people to still be able to get out of the house but not have to go somewhere that you’re crowded. Everything is so shut down right now. You wouldn’t take your kids to the fun house right now. But this way, you and your father can get out and play with a Frisbee at the back of the field and still have a place to run around. There’s no real traffic going on here. It’s just a great thing we can do right now. We’re going to do what we can to kind of keep the community together.”

You can visit the theater’s website at 25drivein.com to see which movies are playing each weekend.

Cost is $5 for ages 3-11 and $10 for ages 12 and up.

Contact staff writer Greg K. Deal at 864-943-5647 or follow on Twitter @IJDEAL.