Former Kmart parking lot on Hertel Avenue is home to a new pop-up drive-in theater

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The parking lot of the vacant Kmart building on Hertel Avenue (1001 Hertel Ave.) has a new role to play- as the city’s only drive-in movie theatre.

Dark Alley Drive-In had its opening night last weekend, with two showings of “Purple Rain”, starring Prince. Both shows were sold out.

Dark Alley Drive-In is the creation of longtime cinema worker Chris Dearing, who wanted to bring movies to the public while theaters like North Park Theatre are closed due to COVID-19.

“I wanted it to be kind of a cool experience,” Dearing said. “I had this idea of people driving down Hertel, used to their surroundings and seeing an empty lot here, but looking to their left and suddenly seeing this theater experience popping out of thin air.”

The drive-in is equipped with a cinemascope screen nine feet wide and 21′ high. Moviegoers tune in to the movie via their car radios.

West Side-based gourmet popcorn shop What’s Pop-In provides the refreshments- guests can pre-order five flavors of popcorn when they purchase their tickets online.

The pop-up drive in is drawing people from all over the area to Hertel Avenue, Buffalo Common Councilman Joel Feroleto said.

“It’s wonderful because it’s using a vacant parking lot at a closed retail store and having a lot of people from outside of the area coming in and enjoying movies on the weekend,” Feroleto said. “It’s a great reason for people to get out of the house and come support the neighborhood.”

This weekend’s show is 1984’s “The Toxic Avenger”- a movie Dearing describes as a “schlock horror superhero movie, kind of a drive-in staple”.

Dearing says he wants the movies shown at the Dark Alley Drive-In to be cult films that a small number of people love and cherish, and to show them to a wider audience.

The future of the Dark Alley Drive-In isn’t certain- just like it’s not certain when movie theaters will be able to reopen.

“We have two other films in the works, and beyond that, we’ll see,” Dearing said.

The pop-up drive in is just the latest example of ingenuity small business owners in the Hertel Avenue area have shown while navigating the pandemic.

Bars and restaurants are expanding their patios, utilizing sidewalks or even parking lots to safely seat guests. Gyms like Sweat Society are holding classes outdoors to allow social distancing.

“A lot of the small business owners have been very creative in expanding their outdoor spaces,” Feroleto added. “It’s great to see the resiliency of these business owners during the pandemic.”

The next screening at Dark Alley Drive-In is The Toxic Avenger at 9 p.m. on Friday.

Tickets must be bought online in advance. They’re available here.

To keep up with the latest news from Dark Alley Drive-In, keep an eye on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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