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Take in a drive-in movie for the summer at Horizon Cinemas in Fallston

Friends Heather Budke and Amy Ryan grew up in Harford County and would visit the local drive-in theater in Churchville as teenagers to catch movies on the outdoor screen. They are able to share the same experience with their children this summer with the opening of the Horizon Cinemas temporary drive-in theater in Fallston.

“I think it’s great for the community, because there’s not many activities that families can do,” said Budke, 45, of Fallston, noting that many businesses in the area are either shut down or close early because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Budke and Ryan, 54, of Forest Hill, and their families sat in lawn chairs or in the open rear hatches of their vehicles as they waited for a showing of the 1978 classic film “Grease,” starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, to start at dark Tuesday evening.

“This is so cool to be going to a drive in,” said Budke, who noted she and her family have been trying to support local businesses during the pandemic.

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“Some good things are coming out of COVID,” she said of the drive-in experience.


Indoor movie theaters are among the businesses in Maryland that remain closed, even though other establishments such as gyms, retail stores and restaurants have been allowed to admit customers inside their facilities — albeit at partial capacity.

A majority of businesses, as well as schools, houses of worship and government offices, had to close down in March as the novel coronavirus took hold in Maryland, and the governor even issued a stay-at-home order for residents. Many locations have gradually reopened, however, in recent months as officials begin to get control of the number of cases.

Horizon Cinemas operates five movie theaters in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties, with the newest theater opening in Aberdeen March 6, about a week and a half before businesses and institutions throughout Maryland were closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

All five theaters remain closed at present, based on state and local health restrictions. Bob Wienholt, a Forest Hill resident, owns Horizon Cinemas with his wife, two adult sons and colleague Ira Miller. Wienholt set up what he called a “pop-up drive in” in the parking lot of Fallston Village Center, the shopping center at Routes 1 and Route 152 that hosts the movie theater, Harvest Fare supermarket and a number of restaurants, medical offices and retail outlets.

The drive-in theater opened July 17 and will show two to three movies per week, according to Wienholt. People can see screenings of “The Greatest Showman,” starring Hugh Jackman, Friday, Sunday and Tuesday, and the animated Disney feature “Zootopia” Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. The parking lot opens at 7:45 p.m., with the movies starting at about 8:30.

“We’re really happy to do it; I’m really pumped for it” Weinholt said Thursday regarding opening the drive-in, noting that he wants the public to know that Horizon Cinemas is still in operation despite the pandemic, and that he hopes to generate some income until theaters can reopen.

“The heart’s still beating, even though it’s been very tough,” he said of the past few months

Drive-in patrons can visit horizoncinemas.com/fallston to reserve a space in the parking lot for $25, which covers as many people that can fit in the vehicle. For an additional $15, they can get a combo of one large popcorn and two medium drinks. Customers can enter the theater lobby to visit the concession stand or use the restroom, but they cannot loiter inside, according to Wienholt. Alcoholic drinks also are not permitted on the premises.

He and his staff have been working in the theaters, making facility upgrades such as touchless doors and restrooms, to ensure visitors are safe when inside. The theaters cannot open without approval from state and local authorities, though, and Wienholt said he has not yet heard when that will happen.

“I‘d dare to say that we’re safer than any other business out there,” he said of the Horizon theaters. “The only place you’d be safer is in your own house.”

The newest theater in Aberdeen, which was built in the former Mars supermarket space in the Aberdeen Marketplace shopping center, opened in March with many of the safety features that have been installed in the older theaters.

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“The theater’s gorgeous, and we can’t open it,” Wienholt said.

Drive-in experience

Wienholt and his son, Thomas, were on hand Tuesday, getting the theater equipment and parking lot configuration ready ahead of the start of “Grease.” Wienholt wore a mask as he walked through the lot, shifting traffic cones around and asking patrons to move their vehicles to ensure everyone could have a clear view of the screen.

Members of the Barwick family, of Bel Air, thanked Wienholt for directing them to a spot with a better view.

“Thank you for coming,” he replied.

April and Kenneth Barwick came with their 11-year-old daughter, Amber, and Amber’s friend, 11-year-old Danya Khwaja.

Kenneth said they have seen outdoor movies before at the Bengies Drive-In Theatre in Middle River.

“This was closer, so we thought we’d try it,” April said of the Fallston drive-in.

Bengies is open, although patrons must follow a number of procedures to protect themselves from potential exposure to COVID-19. Horizon Cinemas also has coronavirus-prevention guidelines for the drive-in on its website, including a recommendation that patrons wear masks when outside and a requirement that all customers older than 9 wear masks when inside.

Wienholt said the landlord for his theater in Glen Burnie has expressed interest in establishing a drive-in at that location, but he wants to see how things go in Fallston first.

“For now, we’re just concentrating on Fallston, getting our act together,” he said, noting that some of his employees have never been to a drive-in theater.

‘Hope for the future'

The last such theater in Harford County, The Bel Air Drive-In Theatre off of Route 22 in Churchville, closed in 2005 after more than 50 years in business.

Amy Ryan’s 20-year-old daughter, Kylie, said she has been to the Bengies drive-in a few times.

“That one’s a bit of a distance, so this is helpful,” the Salisbury University student said of having a drive-in in Fallston.

“It brings all the families, no matter what age, together,” Amy Ryan said.

Wienholt became emotional Thursday as he talked about the support he and his family have received from the community, noting patrons “have been absolutely fantastic.”

“It just gives you hope for the future, when we’re dealing with the people we deal with on a daily basis,” he said.

Wienholt is scheduled to begin hosting a radio show, “Movie Talk,” in which he provides information about the state of movie theaters and the film industry, on WCBM-AM starting Aug. 1 at 4 p.m.

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“It’s going to be really good,” he said.

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