The Stardust Drive-In Theater in Watertown adopted a new purpose and some new challenges when it opened March 6 for the spring season.
The Stardust Drive-In Theater – which touts itself as a 20-30-minute drive from Nashville, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro, Lebanon, Alexandria, Gordonsville, Liberty and Smithville – is one of 14 drive-in theaters in Tennessee and the closest in distance to Nashville. It’s the only drive-in found in Wilson County, and moviegoers get to see two movies back to back for the price of one.
Dawn and Barry Floyd have owned and operated the Stardust Drive-In Theater since 2003. Since the drive-in opened for the spring season March 6, it adopted a few new policies since the new coronavirus pandemic.
“The drive-in theater has always been a unique kind of thing where you come and enjoy the evening with your family,” Dawn Floyd said. “For Barry and I, we create this space for you to have an enjoyable evening with your family. As this coronavirus thing has come along, we are realize we are, to an extent, built for social distancing. You can come with several cars and in a big group and have a big social occasion, or if you just want to be with who you came in the car with, and it be just you guys for the evening, you can do that. You don’t have to go interact with other people.”
Floyd said one of the biggest challenges was with the drive-in’s concessions and bathrooms, so they created a policy to limit the number of people at each at one time.
“We have just asked that one person per vehicle come to the building one at a time. We know with families, parents are going to have to bring children to the bathrooms,” she said. “When they arrive, everyone receives a menu, and so that way the vehicle can plan what they want to buy at the concession stand, so only one person has to come up. Families have been great about working with that policy. We can see large families arriving in their cars and only one person coming to the building and ordering enough food for everyone. So that’s worked really well.
“It’s still been a challenge for younger people understanding that. Don’t all five of you get out of the car, and all five of you come to the building and order food. That’s been kind of frustrating for everyone – for us and for families who are trying to limit their exposure.”
Floyd said some new technology is also in the works at the theater to help limit potential exposure to the coronavirus.
“What we are actively trying to get in place is an app, where you can order your food in your car and pay for it, and we will text you, so only one person has to come to the building one time,” Floyd said. “Right now, one person winds up having to come twice – once to order the food, get their drinks and snacks and has to come back when the hot food is ready to pick it up. Once we get the app up and going – which we are getting really close – then they can order everything and only have to come to the building one time.”
Floyd said one challenge in particular the drive-in has faced since opening its new season is the lack of available movies to screen. Most production companies made the decision either to postpone new movie releases or send them straight to video and streaming services with many theaters shuttered due to the coronavirus.
“There are no new release movies,” she said. “We are very, very limited. We do see the new Trolls movie – the last we heard – is going to release to theaters as they also release to video on demand at the same time. We still have two weeks before they plan to do that. We can look at the studios’ planned release calendar, and we see things pulled off constantly. It’s not leaving much there, so we are hoping that Trolls will stick around and still be released where we can get to it. If not, we will play stuff from before we opened our season.
“We just opened our season after the tornadoes and before the virus became pandemic. So there were lots of movies from December, January and February that we weren’t able to show because we were closed down because of our seasonal shutdown. That still gives us an opportunity to show what we want to show… It may give us the opportunity to show more retro, older stuff.”
Floyd also said the ability to stock the concession stand has since become a challenge, as well.
“I’m also beginning to see some of our vendors, our food suppliers, beginning to shut down,” she said. “We were scrambling around to find popcorn last weekend. And what’s a movie theater without popcorn. We were scrambling around to find vendors for some things.”
Despite the challenges, Floyd said the show must go on, even in the midst of a pandemic.
“The main issue would be if some local authority did say my open-air concession lobby is still a health risk with too many people, and I have to shut down,” she said. “And we’ve asked. We’ve asked the health department and the local government if it looked like we were trying to be compliant and trying to be proactive, and they were all encouraging. People not complying with one person per car does scare us. We don’t want to become known as the source of the coronavirus for Watertown. We are trying the best we can and still provide an opportunity for people to be outdoors and have a relaxing experience with their families.”
According to Floyd, the drive-in has become especially popular with the church crowd. Each Sunday at 11 a.m. for the past two weeks, Watertown First Baptist Church has held services there with the congregation of people in pews replaced with families in cars.
“Watertown [First Baptist Church] did contact us kind of early and asked, ‘Can we do this?’ Sure,” she said. “They do bring a small PA system, and broadcast in the field. But they also tie in to our FM transmitter, so the pastor can be heard much more clearly by each vehicle during the service. They are also still doing their Facebook Live streaming, too, so that gives the church the opportunity to use those three mediums to reach the people. They have had nice attendance the past two weeks and a good Facebook presence. They feel like they are reaching their regular congregation and being able to provide an opportunity for other people to feel a little more sense of community and corporate worship by being there in their own vehicles.”
And in a couple of weeks, Easter weekend may prove to be the drive-in’s busiest yet and all without the projectors rolling. Floyd said one church plans to have a Good Friday service at the drive-in, along with plans for another church to hold a sunrise service and two or three other churches planning services throughout the day.
“In the past several weeks, we have had several churches contact us about having services at our place,” she said. “Many of the other churches outside of the Watertown area are more talking about Easter Sunday and having their special Easter services. With the virus, their normal special services are kind of thrown out the window. So our Easter Sunday will be much more interesting.”
As for the movies, Floyd said plans are to keep the drive-in open each weekend for as long as they can and are allowed.
“Be patient and be kind and work with us here, guys,” she said.
Floyd said the drive-in encountered a setback Monday afternoon. She said the governor’s executive order closed the theater.
“We are discussing being Watertown's newest take out restaurant,” she said. “We are working out details and will announce soon.”
For prices, times and more, visit stardustdrivein.com or call 615-237-0077.