Walmart transforming 160 store parking lots into drive-ins

A police officer works on a crime scene after eight people believed to be illegal immigrants being smuggled into the United States were found dead inside a sweltering 18-wheeler trailer parked behind a Walmart store in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. July 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ray Whitehouse

Go for groceries, stay for the free movie – and keep social distance.

That’s what Walmart is hoping will draw customers in with its announcement Thursday that it will transform 160 of its store parking lots into drive-in theaters next month.

Walmart is launching the program next month in partnership with Tribeca Enterprises, the New York-based media company co-founded by Robert De Niro. The locations and movie lineup will be announced on a new Walmart Drive-In website, the retailer said in a news release. It’s unclear if the movies will be new releases, but admission is free, said Walmart spokeswoman LeMia Jenkins.

In the mostly rural towns where they still exist, drive-in movie theaters have grown in popularity as Americans look for entertainment options that allow for social distancing. In pre-pandemic times, the roughly 300 drive-in theaters in the U.S. struggled to compete with traditional movie houses. But the film industry – which relies on ticket sales from viewers gathering in proximity – has been hurt during the pandemic, with film festivals postponing, moving online or canceling altogether, and new releases postponed or moved straight to streaming sites like Netflix.

Tribeca staff will oversee 320 showings through October, programming the movie screenings and filmmaker and celebrity appearances as well as delivering concessions to customer vehicles.

“Drive-Ins have been a signature program for Tribeca since we started the Tribeca Film Festival 19 years ago after 9/11,” said Jane Rosenthal, chief executive and co-founder of Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival. “But now, the Tribeca Drive-In is much more than a fun, retro way to see movies – it’s one of the safest ways for communities to gather. We are thrilled to partner with Walmart to bring more people together around the shared cinematic experiences that Tribeca is known for.”

Walmart has opened up its parking lots for other uses in the past. In March, it worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state and local officials to provide parking lot space, supplies and staff for drive-through covid-19 testing sites at more than 100 of its stores.

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