There would be no more than 60 cars in the parking lot. This would be diagramed out to show the distance between them. There would be no alcohol after 6:59 p.m. All food orders would be called in ahead, gloves would be worn and the lot policed for people staying in their cars.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” should have been pumping through car radio speakers, the action flashing by on an inflatable screen set up outside Birch’s on the Lake the evening of May 6, maybe with an accompanying dinner of fried chicken in lieu of a bag of popcorn.
“I had all my ducks in a row,” said Burton Joseph, owner of Birch’s on the Lake.
But the idea to hold a series of drive-in movies had its wings clipped before it ever got off the ground and died within a week after the state put the kibosh on it.
Joseph said he’s been trying to find ways to “pique the interest of customers, keep them interested and keep us relevant with what’s going on.”
The movie idea, something that Joseph said came about after seeing the heavy drive-in business at a couple other restaurants from Spring Park to Blaine and White Bear Lake, was one of the ways he said he hoped to treat his customers during the statewide stay-at-home order.
And it seemed at first to be all systems go, so much so that Joseph said he had already in one day sold every one of those 60 tickets and that he was in the process of locking down the licensing to show the movie. Folks with the city had seemed amenable to the movie idea as well, he said.
It was even the Wayzata chief of police who wrote to state officials on behalf of Birch’s and who indicated he had no issue with the event so long as Birch’s obtained the necessary event permit and abided by its planned social distancing measures.
Still, nothing was official.
“We, along with the Wayzata police, were evaluating the request but were waiting on direction from the state. Once the state gave their ruling, the event was off,” wrote Long Lake Mayor Charlie Miner in an email.
The email response that Wayzata Police Chief Michael Risvold received from the state was short and came with no explanation: “Thank you for reaching out. No, this is not allowed at this time. THanks [sic].”
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) did not respond to request for comment.
Gov. Tim Walz issued a stay-at-home order March 25 that has since been extended to last through at least May 18. Under the order, only essential movement is permitted.
“I’m starting to battle with the idea of safety versus everyone being out of business. If you can go about things in a safe manner and be open for business, let us try it,” said Joseph. “They’re telling us to be creative, but when we are, we get it shut down. You can’t win right now.”
The Long Lake restaurant has seen a steep slash in revenue. Its curbside business, though successful, is only bringing in about a third of what the restaurant would normally bring in during these first warm weather days of what, in normal times, is going into the restaurant’s busiest season.
People on social media took to venting their frustrations over the state’s response on the movie idea. Their frustrations weren’t directed toward those drive-in restaurants that have been allowed to operate almost like normal; rather, they were directed toward what has sometimes been seen as an inconsistent application of the rules.
“You can’t go sit in a car with your own family, but you can load them all up and bring them through Costco, Target, or Cub. Ridiculous,” wrote one fan of Birch’s who commented on the news that Birch’s posted to its Facebook page about the no-go on the movies.
“Bravo to Birch’s..” reads another, “Why do they have to shut down every logical solution? Keep small businesses going, not shut down governor!”
Joseph said he still intends to hold the movie nights in the future, once he’s able to do so. “I’m going to do this when it’s right regardless,” he said.