PHOTOS: This Retro Drive-In Theater Is Booming During Coronavirus

A coronavirus-proof business, the drive-in theater, in Kings Mountain, NC.

Previews play before the movies begin at Hounds Drive-In. (Photo by Grant Baldwin for Cardinal & Pine.)

By Billy Ball, Grant Baldwin

May 12, 2020

Hounds Drive-In Theater in Kings Mountain drew 700 cars over the weekend. It’s a business built for social distancing.  

Preston Brown knew enough to know what he was missing. 

At the age of 10, Brown learned to run an old movie theater projector — a big, chugging, greasy machine — in his father’s walk-in theater. 

“I missed the movie business,” he says from the site of Hounds Drive-In Theater. 

Now 50, he runs this bustling destination on the grounds of an old yarn mill about 40 miles west of Charlotte. 

Hounds has been open since 2016, expanding from one to two to three screens. But it’s thrived in recent weeks since COVID-19 began its spread through North Carolina’s 100 counties, at least partly because it is one of just a few pandemic-proof businesses in the state. 

Pandemic-proof, maybe, but not storm-proof. A strong thunderstorm smashed one of the drive-in’s screens in mid-April. It will reportedly cost the business about $100,000 to fix, but Brown says he expects to have the third screen operational by March 2021. 

Still, Brown estimated the theater drew 700 cars last weekend, not a bad haul for any weekend.

“It just gives people something to do,” he says. “A way to get out. And it’s been good for me too.” 

RELATED: The Last County In North Carolina Without A Confirmed COVID-19 Case

Cardinal & Pine sent photographer Grant Baldwin to the Kings Mountain spot over the weekend. Scroll below for his photos. 

Walk-in theaters have been closed since Gov. Roy Cooper issued stay-at-home orders in late March.  

In the meantime, Hounds is still packing in customers, enough so that the giants at Amazon Prime asked Brown if they could premiere two new streaming offerings at the theater this week: the retro sci-fi flicks “The Vast of Night” and “Super 8.” 

The theater’s relied on already released movies during the pandemic as studios halted distribution of new films, but movie-goers haven’t seemed to mind. 

Brown says Hounds is ensuring that customers keep social distance while in the restrooms and at the concession stands. And the nature of a drive-in theater, in which patrons stay at or near their vehicles, takes care of the rest. 

“Did I think it would be a success?” says Brown. “Yes. Did I think it would be this big of a success? No.”

Preston Brown, Owner of Hounds Drive-In, mans the front gate entrance/ticket window as patrons pay per car load to enter.
A couple lounge in the back of their pickup truck with their new dog at Hounds Drive-In.
A family plays Uno in the back of their pickup truck while waiting for the sun to go down and the movie to begin at Hounds Drive-In.
Preston Brown, Owner of Hounds Drive-In, prepares to make loudspeaker announcements from the projector room before begining the movies.
Patrons order from the concession stand at Hounds Drive-In while a movie plays on the screen.
Previews play before the movies begin at Hounds Drive-In.



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