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Grand Falls-Windsor businessman opening drive-in theatre

You could say Shawn Feener has a history with drive-in theatres. 

He and his wife Jackie had agreed on a first date at the Valley Drive-In Theatre in Bishop’s Falls over three decades ago, but it didn’t turn out as planned.

That’s because the couple learned the drive-in was closing and the movie showing wasn’t going ahead.

But he and Jackie — who will be celebrating their wedding anniversary soon —may finally be able to go on that date, because Feener, who owns the Classic Theatre in Grand Falls-Windsor, is looking to get in the drive-in theatre business. 

Feener recently gained approval for his request to lease a plot of land on Maloney Street from the town council.

Grand Falls-Windsor Deputy Mayor Mike Browne is chairperson of the town’s committee of the whole, which approved the request.

Browne noted they had a productive meeting with Feener and feels the venture will be good for residents of the town and the surrounding area. 

“The ball would be in his court now and he is looking forward to doing it,” said Browne. “Most people know he runs the theatre on High Street and with the COVID-19 restrictions, he is certainly limited in the level of business he can do over there. 

“Besides giving the citizens a driive-in-theatre experience, he is certainly doing what he can to make up for the shortfall in his own theatre at this time.” 

The venture, which will be called the Classic Drive-In, would feature parking for up to 150 cars. The plan is to run the business from mid-March to mid-October. 

Gone are the days of latching a speaker to your car in order to hear the feature film. Feener will be using an FM transmitter to have the sound flow through a vehicle’s own radio system.

Part of the agreement with council is for Feener not to not place any permanent structures on the space. Instead, there will be a large inflatable screen. 

There will be a trailer for concessions and bathrooms, while tickets will be issued per vehicle. 

“It is all mobile,” said Feener. 

Since the regulations around the COVID-19 pandemic have started to rollback, towns across the province have started offering drive-in movie experiences for residents as a way to break the lockdown monotony. However, while most only use movies available on DVD, Feener’s operation will feature new releases because it will be an extension of his current theatre business. 

His desire to open a drive-in theatre is two-fold. 

One, as Browne mentioned, was to make up for business lost at his sit-down theatre.

Originally, the Classic Theatre was permitted 23 per cent capacity under Level 2 of the province’s public-health restrictions, although after a request from Feener, the approved capacity rose to 50 per cent. 

Still, he has had a struggle getting people through the door. 

“We’re still here, but it’s getting harder,” he said.

The other reason is to fulfill a long-held goal.

For some time now, Feener has coveted owning a second screen; in that regard, he once looked at operating a theatre in Gander.

But that plan fell through and Feener turned his attention to a second theatre screen in Grand Falls-Windsor. 

Now, it looks like he’s getting one.

“I always did want a drive-in, “ said Feener. “It’s going to be nice and different, especially with COVID-19.” 

Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice

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