Wading River couple has plans for drive-in movies at long-neglected site in Middle Island

The heyday of drive-in movies on Long Island may be long gone, but they’re having a bit of a moment amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pop-up movie screenings are being held at parking lots, beaches and open fields, but a millennial couple from Wading River is hoping to give the drive-in a more permanent revival. 

“One of my earliest memories is being at the Rocky Point drive-in,” said Dina Curley, 34, in an interview Monday, recalling where her love for film began. “It was just kind of magical.”

She and her husband Chris, 33, plan to lease a portion of the former Kmart property in Middle Island to open the Junkyard Drive-In this summer. 

The couple, who have day jobs as a bookkeeper and stone mason, had been brainstorming business ideas they could pursue in the music and art world, everything from a drive-in to a music and performing arts venue.

“We were driving past the Rocky Point drive-in once and I said, ‘I really want to open a drive-in theater that’s old school, really cool and made for a new era,’ ” Ms. Curley said. “It was in the back of our minds.”

Then the pandemic hit, bringing their lingering idea into renewed focus. “We said ‘Let’s just jump in’ and started looking for a location,” she said.

Through their real estate agent, the couple landed on the former Kmart site, owned by developer Wilbur Breslin. Initially, Ms. Curley said, they intend to lease two acres at the 75-acre site for a year and a half to see how it goes.

The property has been vacant since the shuttered Kmart was demolished in 2016, days after a man’s body was found in a wooded area on the property. Suffolk County had bid on the property twice, with plans to partner with the Town of Brookhaven on a park and athletic fields, but the offers were rejected both times.

“It’s kind of sad,” Ms. Curley said. “I remember the Kmart being there when I was a kid and now you look at this abandoned parking lot.”

The couple plans to clean up overgrown areas and freshen up the landscaping in addition to creating clear lanes for customers’ vehicles. “We want to bring it back to life,” she said. Access to the rest of the property will be blocked off.

A 2-acre area will be able to accommodate approximately 100 cars and Ms. Curley said that rather than charge per carload, they’re planning to charge a per-person fee. 

They’re also hoping to have food trucks on site, she said, noting that many operators are struggling since summer festivals and other events have been cancelled.

As for the movie selection, the plan is to focus on “throwbacks” and nostalgia, Ms. Curley said, ranging from family-friendly fare to late night horror flicks.

Long term, they hope to find a site where they can erect a permanent screen but for now, the movies will be shown on an inflatable screen. “We’ll operate like a pop-up but we plan to stick around for the long term,” Ms. Curley said, adding that it’ll also help them get up and running sooner.

According to attorney Keith Brown, they’re aiming to open next month and are working with the Town of Brookhaven to secure the necessary approvals. Social distancing guidelines will likely be in place and guests will be required to wear masks when they leave their vehicles to patronize concessions or use the bathroom.

“They agree that this is something that would be good for the community amid the COVID-19 crisis, especially for families who’ve been cooped up, to get out and have some fun while being socially responsible,” Mr. Brown said.