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Published On: August 20, 2020 04:47 PM NPT By: Associated Press

Now playing at the mall parking lot: movies, drag shows

Now playing at the mall parking lot: movies, drag shows


Angel Dougherty went to the mall last month — not to shop, but to watch a drive-in drag show in the parking lot.

“This year has been so anxiety filled and chaotic, I figured this experience would be something to lighten the mood,” says Dougherty, who paid to see the stars of TV’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” dance in front of hundreds of parked cars at a shopping center in Paramus, New Jersey.

After being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, malls are bringing all types of drive-in entertainment to their massive parking lots, hoping to lure people back to their properties.

A mall in upstate New York, for example, is hosting a drive-in wrestling match. Others around the country are bringing movies or magic shows that can be watched from a car.

It’s a way to reintroduce people to the mall and eventually get them inside to shop, says retail consultant Kate Newlin. But that’s still a hard sell for anxious shoppers, especially with coronavirus cases spiking around the country.

“Nobody wants to go there,” Newlin says about malls. “Nobody wanted to go there before COVID.”

Malls have struggled to attract shoppers for years as more people shop online. But the pandemic has hit malls especially hard. Stores that they depend on, such as J.C. Penney, have filed for bankruptcy and are permanently closing several locations. Other mall tenants, such as the Gap, stopped paying rent while their stores were temporarily closed.

Retail consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen believes that up to half of the 1,000 malls in the U.S. will either close or be unrecognizable in the next two years. Before the pandemic, he expected only 300 to close over the next decade.

The drive-ins mean extra money for malls since production companies typically pay to rent a section of the parking lot. Details of the deals are kept private, but Newlin says renting out the parking lot won’t make up for the loss of losing a major tenant like J.C. Penney.

Malls can benefit in other ways: Some deliver meals from the food court to the parking lot. Others encourage movie goers to park a couple of hours before showtime to pick up dinner inside.

Brandon Voss came up with the idea of a drive-in drag show at an Olive Garden, where his meal was brought to his parked car.

“If Olive Garden can do it, why can’t I?,” says Voss, whose company had to cancel this year’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” tour, which would have been held at indoor venues around the world.

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