Saturday nights used to feel special. Saturday night used to mean happy hour beers at Cole’s, dinner at Ristorante Lombardo with friends or standing shoulder-to-shoulder listening to live music at Sportsmen’s Tavern. But today, Saturdays feel like Tuesdays, which feel like Thursdays. Stay inside, pull up a seat on the couch and stare at the big screen. But as of mid-May, the big screen got bigger. Much bigger. Just as we were all getting desperate for a summertime social-distancing pastime, Buffalo’s beloved Transit Drive-In re-opened. Watching a movie from the comfort of your Chevy Tahoe with the nearest patron a car length away? Even Dr. Fauci would approve!
Rick Cohen and his family have been in the entertainment business since his grandparents bought their first theater in Central New York almost a century ago. Irving and Mary Cohen owned and built theaters from Corning to Buffalo, including the historic Allendale Theatre in Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood. But in 1957 the family put down roots in Lockport when they purchased the Transit Drive-In. Since then three generations of the Cohen family have successfully negotiated changing tastes in entertainment and media consumption, making their Transit Road operation one of only 325 remaining drive-ins in the entire United States.
Wind storms, a fire and advances in technology have all threatened the existence of the Transit Drive-In over the years, but the family has always persevered. “Entertainment is a very competitive field,” owner Rick Cohen, grandson of Irving and Mary Cohen, said. “We have been lucky in that people always are looking for affordable family entertainment, and the drive-in is hard to beat for value.”
The Transit Drive-In is probably facing its sternest test yet with the COVID-19 virus keeping Buffalonians in their homes and wary of venturing outside. But social distancing may be just the thing that helps make the Transit Drive-In among the survivors of the pandemic.
While staying inside your car – at a distance from other patrons — may be inherent to the drive-in experience, Cohen is taking extra precautions to ensure the Transit is a safe environment. The customer experience has been changed from top to bottom. Ticket sales are now online only. Email confirmations will be scanned upon arrival to allow for contactless entry. Patrons are limited to viewing one movie in order to reduce their time on the property. Vehicle capacity has been reduced by 50 percent to allow for almost 12 feet of separation between vehicles. Masks must be worn at all times when outside of your vehicle. Bathroom visits are for emergency use only. And a new app that’s scheduled to launch in the coming weeks will allow for online ordering from the concession stand from your vehicle. And, as a true testament to Rick’s commitment to safety, he’ll personally patrol the parking lot on his Segway to ensure the rules are being followed. If not, back to your couch you go. So, follow the rules. Pack the snacks. Pop the tailgate. Enjoy the show. Make Saturday, well…feel like Saturday again.