Connie DeGolier always wanted to organize an outdoor movie night.
She and her husband, Kevin, have been talking about it ever since they opened Tipsy Tiki outdoor bar and restaurant in Ft. Pierce, Florida nearly three years ago.
But the coronavirus pandemic changed their plans.
With movie theaters closed since mid-March and a stay-at-home order in place since April 1 — all to prevent people from spreading COVID-19 — the idea morphed into a drive-in movie night.
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Last weekend featured “The Goonies” both nights, and scheduled this weekend are “Captain Ron” on Friday and “Overboard” on Saturday.
“We wanted to do something safe for the community to get out, because everybody is stir-crazy,” DeGolier said.
City and police officials gave their blessings for a drive-in movie night in the Tipsy Tiki parking lot. She and partner Kyle Kneifel created Treasure Coast Park and Watch.
“It started rolling,” DeGolier said, “and it rolled very quickly and got very out-of-hand.”
They created a Facebook event to get the word out, knowing they could fit about 50 vehicles in the parking lot.
But about 2,500 people responded they wanted to come.
“It was insane,” DeGolier said. “The page was blowing up. It went viral. We kind of went into a state of panic.”
They needed a bigger location.
DeGolier reached out to her friend Harold “Buzz” Smyth, manager of Causeway Cove Marina just east of the South Causeway Bridge, and she got the OK to use the entertainment venue.
They had two days to turn a 50-vehicle show into one that could hold 250 vehicles.
Loyal customers from Good Times in St. Lucie West, which DeGolier and her husband also own, volunteered to help park vehicles.
“We just made it happen,” DeGolier said. “It was amazing to see all of this come together so quickly and so efficiently.”
They planned on having only one drive-in movie night per weekend. When Friday night sold out days in advance, they added Saturday, which also sold out.
Bad weather moved the second night to Sunday.
She issued refunds to people who couldn’t make the rescheduled night, including to a couple who came from out of town.
“They said there’s nothing to do,” DeGolier said, “so they drove an hour and a half to come.”
The grand opening weekend wasn’t perfect, she said, but they’ve been working out the kinks for the second weekend.
One problem was the 16-by-7-foot LED screen was too small and too low, so people in vehicles in the back couldn’t see the movie.
Now, they have bigger screen — 19-by-11 feet — and it’s double-sided, allowing them to double the number of vehicles, from 250 to 500.
“With having the two screens now,” DeGolier said, “we have really increased our volume of vehicles.”
They’re using donated projectors, and moviegoers get the sound on their vehicle radios.
Other problems also have been ironed out, such as online ticketing and a smoother, more efficient system for ordering food and having it delivered.
“We’re not making a ton of money off this,” DeGolier said, explaining the need to license the showings. “We’ll be lucky if we just break even with our cost.”
They want to make drive-in movie night a permanent entertainment option, even after the coronavirus pandemic, she said.
Until then, they plan to continue every weekend, and possibly expand to other venues on the Treasure Coast.
“Once it’s all over and we’re in the clear, it’ll be that much more successful,” DeGolier said. “Our goal is to have people, instead of in their vehicles, actually sit outside on a blanket or in a lounge chair and enjoy the evening under the stars with a great movie.”