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Patios and drive-in movies carry Gananoque through another pandemic winter

In a town where tourism is crucial, businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic, but for Amanda Trafford, the business development coordinator for the town of Gananoque, it's also been a chance for the local community to come together.

Playhouse, movie theatre and restaurants all stretched their summer plans

Paul and Jamie Peterson are the father-and-son duo that own the 1000 Islands Drive-In theatre. (Submitted by Jamie Peterson)

Public health restrictions have closed most Ontario movie theatres this month, but you can still grab popcorn and sit in front of a big screen in Gananoque, Ont., at the 1000 Islands Drive-In. 

Paul Peterson, who co-owns the movie theatre with his son Jamie Peterson, says people have been driving in from Ottawa, Montreal and Guelph, Ont., to catch a flick. 

Peterson said their theatre is only doing one showing starting at 5:15 p.m., and people have been showing up as early as an hour and a half in advance.

It's different from the double-header setup he's used to, but that's not the only difference. 

Most people don't think January when they think drive-in, but Peterson told CBC's All In A Day that no one has complained to him about being cold in their cars. 

"If at first you succeed, try not to act surprised and take all the credit," Peterson said. "I think they bring a lot of blankets and we see an awful lot of people in their pajamas." 

Paul Peterson decided to keep his 1000 Islands Drive-In open this winter, drawing moviegoers from across Ontario.

Businesses share resources

In a town where tourism is crucial, businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic, but for Amanda Trafford, the business development coordinator for the town of Gananoque, it's also been a chance for the local community to come together. 

"A lot of what I talk about is really like businesses supporting businesses, and I really did see that. I continue to see that a lot in the community," Trafford said.

One instance of this she saw was restaurants sharing outdoor space. Pistachio Café has been sharing its patio with neighbouring restaurant Mavericks all summer, Trafford said. This continued into a holiday collaboration with the town to offer free hot chocolate and movies for kids. 

The Thousand Islands Playhouse is also stretching its summer season with livestreams available at a pay-what-you-can price. Because COVID-19 restrictions kept audiences small, Trafford said many of its summer shows sold out. 

It's also used the time it saved from another COVID-19-affected season to keep up a coat drive for Gananoque residents.

"They started it last year because they really had a lot of time on their hands," Trafford said. "Our local Salvation Army has not reopened since COVID hit, so that's taken a toll on the community and they saw that need and they're fulfilling it." 

January drive-in not 'the wildest thing' 

The inaugural year of the 1000 Islands Drive In initially closed on Oct. 31, 2021, but after provincial restrictions closed movie theatres, the drive-in reopened. (Submitted by Jamie Peterson)

The theatre originally closed for the season on Oct. 31, when Ontario enacted public health restrictions that banned concession sales. 

Peterson says his business doesn't make money off movie tickets, so concession sales are important. 

"My son and I decided — 'let's try reopening the drive-in,' and that's not the wildest thing I'd ever done, it was just the wildest thing that day," Peterson said. 

Cinemas were later completely closed down by public health restrictions, though they can reopen at 50 per cent capacity, starting Jan. 31

This was the theatre's first outdoor season, but drive-ins are not a new business for Peterson, who ran one in Picton, Ont., for 32 years, and he sees the appeal of going during the pandemic. 

"It's very private. You get to see the movie without a whole lot of people around you, those kinds of interruptions and people are concerned about COVID without a doubt. This feels very safe to them."

With files from CBC's All In A Day

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