The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically altered the small business landscape in the U.S.
For Ayana Morris and Siree Morris of Newark, New Jersey, it represented an opportunity: They co-founded the drive-in movie theater Newark Moonlight Cinema to enable movie lovers to continue enjoying the silver screen during the pandemic. But even as vaccinations have some people returning to their pre-Covid ways, the Morrises say they have plans to expand the business.
The pop-up theater, one of the few black-owned theaters in the United States, shows classics and cult favorites with a focus on highlighting African American actors and directors. Moonlight Cinema hosted more than 20,000 cars at its inaugural site during 2020.
“We’re able to allow our patrons to naturally social distance … you can be with the people that you’re already quarantining with, you feel comfortable with the people you live with,” Ayana Morris said. “You come down in your car, and you have a great experience watching a movie.”
Regardless of the fact that social distancing restrictions are gradually being lifted, the Morrises said they plan to expand the cinema’s outdoor entertainment experience by adding more films and branches and enhancing its concession business.
Moonlight Cinema, which has several sponsors including Amazon and Prudential, is operating Wednesday through Sunday until Oct. 31. It shows films on two 800-square-foot viewing screens that will play different movies simultaneously, with audio transmitted through each car’s radio.
Ayana Morris said she would like to see the drive-in movie theater experience “modernize” beyond Covid.
“I know that movie theaters are a thing, drive-ins are a thing,” she said. “I think a nice combo of indoor-outdoor experiences is the smart way to go in the 21st century.”