The Capri Drive-In is Still Beating the Odds
The Pandemic has certainly forced us to do things differently, working, educating and meeting on-line, and having more food and products delivered to our homes. A lot of hi-tech is in the middle of that, but we’re also finding ourselves re-discovering some old low-tech options. Like Drive-In Movies!
Sue Magocs’ family, (pronounced MAY-goess), has owned and operated the Capri Drive-In in Coldwater since conjuring it from a cornfield in 1964. “Drive-ins are magical,” said Magocs. “They bring back memories for so many people, and it’s a chance to revisit a different, simpler time.”
Keeping a drive-in movie theater in business for the last 56 years has been an enormous challenge, especially in 2020. Magocs says last spring was a scary time. “We’re a seasonal, small business,” said Magocs. She said they just couldn’t sit around hoping and waiting for Governor Gretchen Whitmer to allow them to open. Whitmer’s closing of indoor theaters might have made sense, but many people, including the Magocs family, couldn’t see any reason for outdoor theaters to be lumped in there too. At the time, Magocs said, “We can really social distance, I mean seriously, in the car. So we can do that. We're just hoping and pleading with the governor to let us get open as soon as possible.”
But after several weeks, as the Memorial Day weekend approached, Magocs said “I have to do something. I have to act.”
The first step was to put a message on the marquee at the Capri that read, 'Want to Open, Can't, Call Gov, Thanks.’ The message was heard nationwide in the press but didn’t sway the governor. So the family held a meeting and decided to open anyway. “We were upfront with the prosecutor’s office and local law enforcement about what we were doing and why,” said Magocs. “We were very nervous when the State Police officer came out. He took pictures, inspected the whole operation, and told us that things looked a lot better than most places he’d seen. He left, but on the way out he stopped to ask the protester why he was there in violation of the governor’s order.”
Two weeks later, the Capri got the OK from the state to open. “We had so much support. It just blew me away.”
So how’d they do this season? “We did all right. We didn’t break any records, but we made it through. I’m just so grateful for the support we got from everyone. I feel so sad for our small business friends who own bowling alleys and other seasonal businesses that can’t open.”
Drive-in theaters have been on the endangered list for the last 40 years. That’s due to a lot of things. In many areas, the land is just worth more for other development. Daylight Saving Time caused the shows to start as late as 10:30 pm. Compact cars with “the hump” made it tough for a couple to snuggle in the front seat, and forget about large families. And there’s been plenty of competition for entertainment dollars, starting with cable tv, multiplex theaters, VCRs, and now streaming services like Netflix.
“There was a lot of pressure to shut down in the early ’80s,” said Magocs. But the family hung in there. They thought it was finally the end in 1998, when a multiplex theater came to Coldwater, with 7 screens. That meant that the drive-in wouldn’t be able to get dibs on the newest and most popular movies. But the family fought back. They reasoned that their business was regional, more than local. They hired a marketing firm to poll their customers. “It cost us $1,500.00 for a couple of questions, but we were able to show that only 17% of our customers were from Coldwater. The rest were from Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, and all over the state.” It worked. They were able to get first-run movies, even if the Big 7 had them too.
New technology has given the Capri some new options too, and the pandemic has fueled some new ideas. “Encore Drive-In Nights have given theaters like ours all over the country the opportunity to feature artists in concert, and it’s been a great thing,” said Magocs. “We started with Garth Brooks and it sold out in 2 hours! We had Metallica, and coming up, it’s an up-and-coming artist, Kane Brown.” Kane Brown will air his brand-new, never-before-seen show for one night only on Saturday, September 26, at drive-in and outdoor theaters across the United States and Canada.
Magocs says her son put a basketball playoff game on last week while they were closed, to see what it looked like, and she says it looked and sounded great.
The movies may not be new right now, but for many the experience is, and for many more, it’s a blast from the past, and for everybody, it's something to do! There are a lot of “out of the box” events happening, and movies on the two screens through October. Check out the Capri website.
Capri Drive-in, 119 East Chicago Road, Coldwater
The Capri Drive-in is a twin screen drive-in theater located in Coldwater. The Capri Drive-in was first opened in 1964 and has been run by the same family that built it. Each of their twin screens shows double features seasonally March thru October.