A Champlin business offering its services once again, now that some of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
The Champlin Mann 14 Theatre is opening back up Friday, June 26. Customers will sit 6 feet apart, although those coming with their families will get to sit together. There will also be limits on the number of people allowed inside the theaters.
The theaters will be cleaned. All employees will wear masks and gloves. Plexiglass partitions have been installed at all concession registers and at the box office.
But the Champlin theater decided to do some different before opening its theaters for customers to come inside and watch a movie. Last weekend, June 19 to 21, the theatre created the state’s first pop-up drive-in movie theater.
Steve Mann, from Mann Theatres, said they wanted to create an alternative form of entertainment. “We had a wonderful opportunity to create an alternative for people to watch movies and not have to go inside a theater if they didn’t feel comfortable,” he said.
The Mann family owns 13 theaters across the state, but felt Champlin was the best location to try out a drive-in.
“Champlin has the parking lot size and the size of the building is big enough,” Mann said.
For its opening weekend, the drive-in was a success. Both Friday and Saturday night, the drive-in was close to capacity, according to Mann. Sunday was a bit slower, but he thought it may have had something to do with the weather and it being Father’s Day.
The responses the Mann’s received from the drive-in were great. “People told us there were so excited,” he said. “It was a fun affair and there was a great atmosphere.”
One thing that makes the Champlin Mann 14 drive-in so unique is the screen.
“We took a screen out of one of our theaters and made a frame to secure it to the outside of the building,” he said of the40- by 17-foot screen.
Moviegoers can pick up the audio through their FM radios in their cars. The movies are projected out of a large SUV in the parking lot.
Mann said people in up to 135 cars can watch the movies with good sightlines. Up to 165 cars can fit into the parking lot, but 30 of those will have slightly-obstructed views because of the poles in the parking lot.
“We have flaggers that park every car,” he said. “We direct you in the spot because we know what the best sight lines are. Drivers are also asked if people will be watching from the front or back of their vehicle.”
A box office was built in the parking lot. Mann said the lobby inside the building is open for concessions. “We make an announcement before the movie starts to let people know they can come in and get food,” he said. “We ask they wear a mask, but masks are not required.”
He added there is another option for drive-in watchers to get concessions. “When people arrive at the gate, they are given a ‘pop up’ number and a menu,” Mann said. “People can put those numbers on the top of their car’s roof or hood. Our employees will watch for those numbers. The employees will then go to the car and take the order.” Staff will then return to the vehicle with the order.
The theater also has a full-service bar. Adult beverages are available until 12:30 a.m., but cannot be brought out in the parking lot. Mann said a new outdoor patio area has been created just outside of the front doors.
The restrooms inside the building are also open to movie-goers.
“There aren’t many drive-ins left,” Mann said. “Some young people that came opening weekend did not even know what a drive-in was.”
If anyone missed out on heading the to drive-in in Champlin, there is still time. Mann said he plans to have drive-in movies until at least September on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Last weekend the movies Grease (at 10 p.m.) and Back to the Future (midnight) were shown. As of press time (June 23), there was still a poll going to decide which movies will be shown this weekend.
Currently there are no new films to be released to theaters. The coronavirus shut down production on films. Mann said that is the reason already-released films are what is available to watch. Come July, though, some new films like Mulan will be released.
Mann added he is looking for more staff to help out with the drive-in. He is currently accepting applications. Once he can get more staff, he said he would like to offer drive-in movies Monday through Thursday as well.
The support from the city has been great, Mann said. “The city has been wonderful. The mayor was here Friday night. Everyone has been so supportive of the idea. We called the city and the first thing they said was, ‘How can we help?’ The Champlin Police Department has been on hand to make sure things went well.”
Mann added, “This is a fun, family event.”
The cost is $8 per person ($3 per child ages 3 to 11 years old). The gates for the drive-in open at 7 p.m. To learn more, visit manntheaters.com/drivein