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Wellesley to turn a parking lot into a makeshift drive-in theater

With grant money from two organizations, 10 movies will be shown this summer

People watched "The Goonies" at a pop-up drive-in in Hicksville, N.Y., last month. Wellesley will have a similar operation this summer.
People watched "The Goonies" at a pop-up drive-in in Hicksville, N.Y., last month. Wellesley will have a similar operation this summer.Bruce Bennett/Getty

With so many people working from home during the pandemic, the Tailby Lot in Wellesley has sat mostly vacant the past few months.

But not for much longer. In July, the town-owned parking lot will be transformed into a pop-up drive-in theater some nights, offering residents a bit of classic entertainment in a summer largely lost to COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen lent its support to the project after the town received more than $50,000 from the Community Fund for Wellesley’s COVID-19 Relief Fund and the Kiwanis Club of Wellesley.

The money will pay for operating costs and training, as well as the cost of the projector, a 40-foot inflatable screen that can be moved if necessary, and other needed equipment.

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The plan is to show about 10 “family-friendly” films throughout the summer. An official schedule has not been released.

Admission is free but limited to local residents, who must register their car in advance to reserve a spot. As with most drive-in theaters, people can listen to what’s happening on the big screen by tuning into a designated radio station, officials said. The plan was first reported by the community blog Swellesley Report.

Officials from the Recreation Department and Youth Commission did some scouting before landing on Tailby Lot as the best spot for a drive-in. With many people working from home, vehicles there have been scarce recently.

“There have been no cars,” said Maura Renzella, youth director of the town’s Youth Commission, during a virtual meeting about the proposal with the Board of Selectmen this month. “Four at any given time I have gone to visit."

The project is a collaboration of several town departments. While Tailby Lot, in Wellesley Square, is the focus at this point, officials may consider using other parking locations to show films, as well. Tailby Lot typically holds around 300 vehicles, but for movie nights it will accommodate roughly 100 socially distant cars, officials said.

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Organizers are trying to make the experience as authentic as possible. But two things will be noticeably missing: Moviegoers won’t be able to visit a concession stand for popcorn and soda, and there will be no bathrooms.

Town officials said the drive-in won’t just help people trying to salvage their summer from the mass cancellation of events due to COVID-19 — it’s also going to provide work for teenagers who may have lost their summer jobs because of the virus.

“A number of high school and college-age youth that typically work through the Recreation Department, and depend on that summer work, would be able to work these movies,” Renzella said. “They would do setup, breakdown, and staffing of the event."

Renzella said the drive-in might also benefit owners who were forced to close their businesses this spring. With no concession stand, moviegoers might instead grab food, snacks, or ice cream from local merchants before parking for an evening movie.

“All involved are just so excited,” Renzella said by phone Tuesday as she stood in the lot, assessing the space with other town officials. “This is just trying to bring back summer as best we can and provide this little bright spot."

The idea to transform such lots into entertainment spaces comes as drive-in theaters across the country have taken center stage during the pandemic, old-school distractions from our current plight.

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In May, Kowloon restaurant in Saugus announced plans to turn its empty parking lot into a makeshift theater, with dining at the iconic Route 1 spot on hiatus because of the virus.

Meanwhile, in Mendon, home of the Mendon Twin Drive-in theater, tickets sold out fast on opening night last month after state officials said such venues could resume operations during Phase 1 of reopening the economy.

There are roughly 300 drive-in theaters in operation across the country, with about a dozen in New England.

While Wellesley’s drive-in won’t be added to that official tally, given its temporary status, hopefully it will lift people’s spirits, said Jamie Ebersole, chairman of the Community Fund for Wellesley.

“It’s been difficult for a lot of people to deal with the new reality of being in close confines," he said. “I think this will be a nice adjunct to a lot of the other work we have done as a fund to bring people together in a safe way to have fun, and get out of the house and feel like things are getting a little bit back to normal."


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.