A new future for Sun-Ray Cinema

Jennifer Ronzon, Intern

Sun-Ray Cinema has been a Jacksonville staple since the theater’s opening nearly 100 years ago. The mom-and-pop cinema, located in the historic Five Points neighborhood, is famous for its cozy atmosphere and tasty snack bar.

When COVID-19 struck the United States in March and temporarily closed all non-essential businesses across the country, Sun-Ray immediately felt the effects. Since lockdown lifted in Florida, the theater has gone back in time, offering drive-in movie events to customers to keep the theater alive and the movie-going experience possible.

Image courtesy of Tom Mossholder via Unslpash

The idea for the drive-in came as a solution to keeping the theater open for business. Shana David-Massett, who owns Sun-Ray with her husband Tim, said it was not a matter of adapting to a new normal but, “keeping this business sucking oxygen.”

The drive-in screenings, which cost just $24.00 per car, have been hosted every weekend since June. Screenings have included horror movies around Halloween and Christmas movies in the month of December. While at the drive-in, attendees can walk over to the snack tent to purchase some of their favorite Sun-Ray snacks.

Despite the success of the drive-in, which averages 75 cars per screening, business is still tough. David-Massett explained that Sun-Ray is only making a fraction of the business they were pre-COVID. However, they are hopeful that things will soon be looking up.

Recently, Sun-Ray was officially recognized by the WB, which means they will be able to host new releases at the drive-in. This included the much-anticipated premiere of Wonder Woman 1984, which premiered screenings at both the drive-in and Five Points location for its Christmas day opening.

Any and all screenings at the Five Points Cinema follow the theater’s strict safety regimen. This includes wearing masks anytime patrons are not in their assigned seats, buffers between patrons, and limiting capacity to 30%. David-Massett also explained the theater is equipped with UVC filters and is thoroughly sanitized before and after each showing.

“We must be doing something right,” David-Massett explained. “We’ve kept our staff healthy and working since June.”

Sun-Ray is considering the next steps for their future. The small business recently invested in their own audio and video equipment, which they had previously been renting. This was necessary to host new releases at the drive-in. Currently, the drive-in is hosted at Tailgater’s Parking off Talleyrand Ave but soon will change. Sun-Ray recently purchased property of their own to serve as a permanent home to the drive-in.

Kaydee Gavron has attended five screenings at the Sun-Ray drive-in and says she will follow them wherever they go. She has gone to movies at the drive-in, as well as the Five Points theater since its reopening. Gavron says the movie-going experience is different at each venue. The drive-in, she said, feels like a night out.

“I don’t think you can compare them. I love how a drive-in feels like an event. It’s fun to set up a truck bed with bedding and snuggle under the stars, enjoying the show. It feels special,” she said.

To see what screenings are coming up, both at the drive-in and 5 Points theater, follow @sunraycine on Instagram or visit their website at www.sunraycinema.com


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