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May 29-June 4, 2020
‘A SHOT IN THE DARK’
Astoria diner transforms parking lot to a drive-in movie theater to stay afl oat during pandemic
BY JACOB KAYE
To deal with the demands of social
distancing amid the COIVD-19 pandemic,
an Astoria diner is looking to
the 1950s for inspiration.
Bel Aire Diner, located at 31-91 21st
St., used its vacant parking lot to start
a drive-in movie theater earlier this
month and shows two features a day.
The diner’s owner said the reception
has been great.
“We didn’t imagine it would be this
big,” said Kal Dellaportas, who’s family
began running the diner in 1996.
“Tickets sell out in a minute. Ninety
tickets in one minute. It’s crazy.”
At the beginning of the COVID-19
pandemic, Dellaportas began brainstorming
with the diner’s manager,
trying to find creative solutions to
stay in business. His manager suggested
they use the vacant parking lot
for a drive-in theater.
“It was basically just an idea, a
shot in the dark,” Dellaportas said.
“We ran with it.”
The diner rented an inflatable
screen and worked with a company to
secure licensing rights to show films.
They also implemented social distancing
guidelines, instructing movie-goers
to keep their windows closed. By
May 7, they were up and running.
Tickets sell for $32 per car, but
despite the high demand, Dellaportas
says he doesn’t make a dime off
the ticket sales. The profits either go
Photo via Instagram/belairediner.
towards operational costs – Dellaportas
has been able to retain more staff
members as a result of the theater – or
In addition to screening films for
the local police precinct and donating
breakfast meals to the senior center
across the street, Bel Aire is hosting
Elmhurst Hospital healthcare workers
on Tuesday, May 26, for a special
screening of “The Princess Bride,” in
collaboration with Queens Together.
Despite the high demand and the
warm reception from the public, Dellaportas
said nothing beats a fully
open and operational diner.
“We’re a 160-seat restaurant. On
a Saturday or Sunday, we’re turning
over tables constantly, ever 45 minutes
to an hour,” Dellaportas said.
“With the movie, it’s great, we get
a 100 people. But it’s 100 people in
When the pandemic clears, Dellaportas
said, he’ll definitely consider
keeping the drive-in movies going.
He’s unsure what the licensing options
may be once movie theaters open
back up, but if it’s possible to do, he’d
like to continue the events.
“If it’s viable and there’s demand,
we’ll absolutely do it,” Dellaportas
Vol. 8 No. 22 28 total pages
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