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Black-Owned Drive-In Movie Theater Born of the Covid Pandemic Has Plans to Stick Around

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  • Since opening amid the Covid-19 pandemic, drive-in movie theater Newark Moonlight Cinema is building its community-driven business with plans to stick around.
  • “I think a nice combo of indoor-outdoor experiences is the smart way to go in the 21st century,” co-founder Ayana Morris told CNBC on Wednesday.
  • The pop-up theater — which highlights African American filmmakers and actors — hosted more than 20,000 cars at its inaugural site during its first year.

The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically altered the small business landscape in the U.S., boosting some while crushing others.

For Ayana Morris and Siree Morris, it represented an opportunity: They co-founded drive-in movie theater Newark Moonlight Cinema. But even as vaccinations have some people returning to their pre-Covid ways, the Morrises told CNBC they have plans to expand their small business.

The pop-up theater, one of the few black-owned theaters in the country, screens classics and cult favorites with a focus on highlighting African American filmmakers and actors. Moonlight Cinema hosted more than 20,000 cars at its inaugural site during 2020. It's capitalizing on pandemic-related distancing protocols even as indoor movie theaters and entertainment venues get back on their feet with vaccines now widely available in the U.S.

"We're able to allow our patrons to naturally social distance ... you can be with the people that you're already quarantining with, you feel comfortable with the people you live with," Ayana Morris said. "You come down in your car, and you have a great experience watching a movie."

Appearing Wednesday on "The Exchange," the Morrises said they plan to expand the cinema's outdoor entertainment experience by adding more films and branches and enhancing its concession business. 

Moonlight Cinema, which has several sponsors including Amazon and Prudential, is operating Wednesday through Sunday until Oct. 31. It shows films on two 800-square-foot viewing screens that will play different movies simultaneously, with audio transmitted through each car's radio. 

Ayana Morris said she would like to see the drive-in movie theater experience "modernize" beyond Covid.

"I know that movie theaters are a thing, drive-ins are a thing," she said. "I think a nice combo of indoor-outdoor experiences is the smart way to go in the 21st century."

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