Get your popcorn ready: Bear's first drive-in theater to debut in a few weeks
Grateful Dead legend Bob Weir doesn’t have anything to do with a new drive-in movie theater slated to debut in New Castle County.
But another man named Bob Weir, former owner of the Theatre N at Nemours in Wilmington and no relationship to the rock icon, is behind this nostalgic project.
The new drive-in, planned to be located behind Lowe’s Home Improvement at 1061 E. Songsmith Drive in Bear, may start selling tickets by the end of July, Weir told The News Journal/Delaware Online.
While drive-in movie-style pop ups have been trending in Delaware and elsewhere during the pandemic, Weir would love to see his project become the state's only permanent drive-in theater.
The twin-screen drive-in theater, he said, will be the first ever in Bear. The venue will feature first-run movies.
“If it’s new, more than likely we’ll show it,” said Weir, formerly of Stanton, who relocated to Fair Hill, Maryland, last year.
New Castle County Executive Matthew Meyer is already revved up for the new business.
“[In] the immortal words of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry,’ this news ‘made my day,’ '' Meyer said. “Loosely paraphrasing another iconic movie line, I have no question that ‘When they build it, we will come.’ ”
A kernel of inspiration
The motivation for the Bear Drive-In started from a kernel of an idea last fall when The Grand in Wilmington, where Weir works his day job, introduced their "Drive-In Cinema'' series at Bellevue State Park, featuring a theme of movie musicals.
The series left such an impression on Weir, the technical director for The Grand, that he decided to see if he could recreate that magic in the parking lot of the old Avon factory in Newark.
After reaching out to Reybold Venture Group, owners of the Avon factory, Reybold instead offered him an opportunity to use their property behind Lowe’s, which sits on about five or six acres, Weir said.
The Delaware native is in the process of building his twin movie screens from cargo shipping containers that will showcase films that come from digital movie projectors.
Weir is taking an unconventional route by assembling his screens from containers because “it's quick and easy, it's affordable and convenient.”
Delaware's drive-in history in reverse
It's been a dozen years since Delaware's drive-in movie era came to a close when Felton's Diamond State Drive-In on Route 13 showed its final double feature, "Bolt" and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa."
By that time, the theater was an oddity, the last one standing after running from 1949 to 1986 before starting up again in 1995 for a final 13 year run.
Flash-forward to 2020 — an age of high-back recliners in multiplexes with IMAX screens and unlimited comfort in home theaters — and everyone thought drive-ins were not only gone, but they were gone for good.
Then a global pandemic hit.
In addition to The Grand, which returned by popular demand with its “Drive-In Cinema” in the spring, other drive-in experiences that got revved up in the First State during the pandemic included showings last summer of the original 1996 version of “Space Jam,” at the Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington; plus a showing of Sylvester Stallone’s classic “Rocky” at Lefty's Alley & Eats in Lewes.
Over the last year, drive-in theaters around the country popped up in a welcomed revival. Some hold outs on this beloved pastime have even converted.
Back to the future: Drive-in movie theaters suddenly return to Delaware
Weir invites families to join his popcorn-loving congregation when the Bear Drive-In opens in a few weeks.
“There’s definitely been a resurgence. [During quarantine], it was an unfortunate introduction to something that a lot of people weren't really aware of," he said.
Weir’s announcement about the Bear Drive-In has been whipping people into a frenzy on Facebook.
“Never understood why these went out of business!!!! So excited!” one Facebook user wrote.
“ooo we’ll have to take a mini road trip upstate and goooooo,” another said.
“We definitely have to go when it opens. I’ve never been to one either,” a curious user wrote.
“omggg best friend date??” someone said.
“Tell mom!!” an excited user wrote.
New Castle County Department of Land Use has approved permits for the Bear Drive-In that are valid through Nov. 2.
When the Bear Drive-In debuts in a few weeks, it’ll be open Wednesday through Sunday until Labor Day. After Labor Day, it’s open Thursday through Sunday. The venue will end its season in November, Weir said.
The Bear Drive-In, he said, will offer typical movie theater concessions including popcorn, soda, candy and snacks.
Andre Lamar is the features/lifestyle reporter. If you have an interesting story idea, email Andre Lamar at email@example.com.
News Journal reporter Ryan Cormier contributed to this report.