Business booms for Goleta drive-in theater during pandemic
These days, it seems like no business can stick to its traditional model while following COVID-19 regulations.
However, there is one business that actually benefited greatly from the pandemic, and many may not even be aware that it reopened after a year-long closure.
West Wind Drive-In Theater in Goleta had been open since the 1960s and closed in early 2019 for a year. Located at 907 S. Kellogg Ave., it reopened at the end of May 2020.
Since then, it’s been packed with more cars than ever before.
“We’re actually doing better during the pandemic than we’ve ever done in the history of West Wind Theaters. It’s amazing,” James Millegan, the general manager of the Goleta location, told the News-Press. “Us and Amazon.”
These days, “slow” nights at the West Wind, such as Mondays or Wednesdays, average at about 30 to 50 cars or 100 people. On a good weekend night, the drive-in theater sees an average of about 150 cars or 300 people throughout the two shows, one at 5:30 p.m. and the other at 7:30 p.m., according to Mr. Millegan.
Kids’ movies and/or cartoons always do the best, since children only cost $2 to enter the drive-in. Adults are $8.75, children 4 years old and under are always free, and Tuesday is “Family Fun Night,” where it’s $5.75 per person and $2 for children 5 to 11 years old.
“We are doing way better than the previous time we were open,” Mr. Millegan said. “Part of that is COVID — there’s not much else to do.”
When the West Wind Drive-In closed in 2019, Mr. Millegan said the theater was averaging maybe three or four cars per night.
“It was really bad. People just kind of forgot about the place,” he said.
However, things improved when West Wind began to up its advertising and partnered with UCSB Arts & Lectures, which was holding screenings nearly every week at the drive-in and advertising exclusive showings. Other organizations have shown movies at the drive-in as well.
“We’ve seen a definite increase,” the general manager said. “People realized once this place closed down that they missed it. People started to bring their kids and their grandkids, reminiscing.”
While he didn’t know off the top of his head the percentage increase of revenue this year, Mr. Millegan said, “I can tell you, this year alone as a division … We’re set to break records.”
In addition to the Goleta site, West Wind has other locations throughout California, Nevada and Arizona.
The Goleta drive-in’s concession stand is up and operating, with all the necessary movie theater snacks: popcorn, nachos, candy and slushies. All customers are required to wear masks in the concession building, where there’s plenty of space for social distancing.
Mr. Millegan said staff has had to control the lines for restrooms on busy nights, but other than that, it’s been smooth sailing.
“People have actually been very understanding and compliant with the rules,” he said.
The new “Wonder Woman 1984” film was in its second week of showings when the News-Press arrived Wednesday to visit the drive-in. The previous weekend’s showings of “Wonder Woman” had attracted well more than 100 cars each night, according to Mr. Millegan.
Nathan Severson is a staff member at the West Wind Drive-In Theater in Goleta, and he gave motorists and their passengers instructions at the ticket office on Wednesday.
He said some movies are still hit or miss based on their popularity, but the theater sees at least 30 cars every night. On Wednesday, the 5:30 p.m. showing of the new movie “Monster Hunter” gattracted around 30 cars, and by the time “Wonder Woman” was playing, close to 100 cars packed half the lot.
“We’re getting a lot of first timers,” Mr. Severson told the News-Press. “There are one or two every night that say, ‘It’s my first time here at a drive-in.’”
He said the West Wind Drive-In in Goleta is lucky and in a unique position compared to indoor movie theaters, which are unable to operate.
“It’s the only moviegoing experience left inside COVID,” Mr. Severson said.
Online ticketing is coming soon, but for now, tickets for movies can be purchased at the box office on the way into the lot. To view showings at the West Wind or learn more about it, visit westwinddi.com.