PILSEN — ChiTown Futbol in Pilsen nearly closed as restrictions were implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus last spring.
Games stopped inside the indoor sports facility at 2343 S. Throop St. ChiTown Grill, a restaurant and bar inside the facility, also closed. In an effort to bring the staff safely back to work, owner Bryce Bowman decided to convert the parking lot into a drive-in theater.
Now, a year after opening ChiTown Movies, the drive-in is becoming a permanent fixture, Bowman said.
The impetus for the drive-in theater was to get “our people back to work,” Bowman said.
Bowman said building the theater’s massive screen was “risky at the time.” But the hope was people would sit in their cars and feel safe, while former scorekeepers and referees directed traffic. They also reopened the restaurant and delivered food to movie attendees, he said.
The gamble paid off for the 20-year-old business: People showed up in droves.
“Since we opened last year, we had nearly 30,000 tickets sold for public and private events,” Bowman said. “It’s been successful and met a need … . We’ve had a lot of families be able to come and enjoy this.”
Bowman credits the drive-in for saving the facility’s indoor restaurant and getting people back to work. They have even been able to hire a few more workers, Bowman said.
The ChiTown Futbol turfs have since been able to reopen, but at limited capacity.
The drive-in remains popular, though: It is showing movies throughout April, and there will be film screenings weeknights in May, Bowman said. The space is already booked for private events during every weekend in May.
And this summer, ChiTown Futbol is partnering with Encore Entertainment to show five livestreamed concerts at the drive-in, Bowman said.
In the face of the difficult year, Bowman is a firm believer in “fighting for what you believe in and keep moving forward.”
“It’s just been a blessing to have made it through this,” Bowman said. “It was overwhelming to think we had this business that was completely and utterly devastated by COVID … . I give a lot of credit to our staff for their hard work and ingenuity.”
Stay up to date on what’s happening in the athletic facility and the movies here.
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