Historic Tampa Bay drive-in sees big crowds for reopening

Something Good

RUSKIN, Fla.(WFLA) – Friday night at the movies never looked so good or felt so right.

As the Bay Area begins to reopen, people can’t wait to get out of their homes and into a routine, doing things they used to do before the pandemic. On Friday night, a favorite American past time had families piling into one special piece of vast, rural property, ready to have fun.

After all, when’s the last time you remember going to the movies on a Friday night?

The historic Ruskin drive-in along Highway 41 in Hillsborough County is a beloved spot.

The legendary location opened back in 1952 with the movie, ‘Singing in the Rain ‘ with Gene Kelly. And, in true Florida fashion, it was actually raining that night. Fast forward to May 1, 2020. Once again, Friday night rolls around, but this time, the reason the regulars are coming back has a big backstory.

The drive-in has been closed for more than five weeks due to the pandemic.

Owner Karen Freiwald and her husband were heartbroken when they had to close down as the outbreak began. However, they knew safety was of the utmost importance as people began social distancing knowing they would be back someday and hoped it would come sooner rather than later.

When 8:30 pm rolled around Friday night, Karen was beaming from ear to ear, waving and smiling at moviegoers as she wore a familiar piece of PPE. That being said, you did not need to lift her mask to know she was smiling.

For her, this day has special meaning. They were back in business. Car after car after car, families drove in as the sun was setting.

“I missed everyone so much. They are family” she said.

Jennifer Feargood and her husband were enjoying a double date with friends and kids, with social distancing in mind.

The mother-of-two tells us nights like this are needed. Big time. Jennifer says it’s been hard being cooped up inside with people feeling stir crazy in quarantine.

“We are ready to get out and have some fun,” she said.  She was visibly excited, spending time with her family, setting up chairs as they got ready for the movie. “It feels good, feels really good after being inside for so long. It feels nice to feel the sun and the air, and to be doing something,” she said.

Mother nature certainly played a large part in Friday night’s successful reopening. The air was fresh, with a cool breeze and sunny skies. Not a cloud to be seen as the drive-in filled quickly. The owners tell us they are now operating a regular schedule, and they are also enforcing strict social distancing, including the concession stand, which was originally indoors and always packed. It is nowt a takeout window with only one customer allowed per order.

It is the new normal, and by the looks on everyone’s faces, this date night was now family night

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