Canterbury Village drive-in movies ruled out by governor

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Orion Township — Dan Newman and Keith Aldridge sold 3,000 tickets to their drive-in movie series at Canterbury Village, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office turned the lights out Wednesday before the butter hit the first bag of popcorn.

While some restrictions have been loosened in the statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration, notably on golf and power boating, "they said we're not part of the new executive order," said Aldridge, whose family owns the old-world marketplace and events center.

Canterbury Village Drive-In display

"They can put 20,000 people in a Costco in a day," he said, "but 160 cars in a field? I guess not."

The family-friendly movie series, announced Monday, was originally scheduled for Friday through Sunday. When tickets for every showing sold out in an hour at $25 per car, it was expanded to every day but Wednesday.

The first movie, "Jumanji," was supposed to roll at 2 p.m. Thursday. The three or four titles shown each day were to include "Frozen II," "The Lion King," "Avengers: Endgame" and others.

The 32-by-14-foot LED video wall would have provided clear pictures even in daylight, Newman said.

Tickets, $20 plus $4.99 in fees, will be refunded or can be used after social distancing restrictions are relaxed further, he said. The new target date for the impromptu drive-in is May 15.

With 20-foot spaces for cars, about double the standard for drive-in movies, and concessions delivered to vehicles, "we thought we had exceeded guidelines," said Newman, whose AV7 Productions typically serves festivals and events such as the downtown Detroit Christmas tree lighting.

Newman said his wife, Denise, suggested the movie series after reading an article about a drive-in theater.

Aldridge said the response was a mix of enthusiasm and gratitude from parents searching for something safe and entertaining to do with their children: "I probably got 300 positive emails and posts in 48 hours."

Aldridge's family also owns Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, which has opened for member play under restrictions that include no carts and no food service. 

He said the drive-in concept may have been a victim of its own strong reception and resulting publicity.

Either someone in state government read an article, he suggested, or someone dialed the capital, and a turn-out-the-lights email arrived from Lansing on Wednesday afternoon.

"We're a small business. We're getting murdered," he said. "I'm just trying to bring some of my employees back."