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'I don't understand it': Owner of Bengies Drive-In Theatre says state won't let him open, on brink of closing for good

Posted at 10:57 PM, May 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 20:14:47-04

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — The owner of Bengies Drive-In Theatre in Baltimore County is pushing the state to allow his business to open after Governor Larry Hogan eased statewide social distancing restrictions, a part of his road map to recovery plan earlier this month.

D.Vogel said Bengies, which has been around for decades, is one of the only drive-ins not open across the country, as many of them have become increasingly popular during the pandemic.

"99 percent are open," he said. "Drive-ins are doing really well."

As part of phase one in the governor's recovery plan, beaches were allowed to reopen and churches were given permission to hold indoor services at 50 percent capacity.

In Baltimore County, churches are still closed, but are allowed to hold drive-in services.

Vogel said if those activities are permitted, he should be allowed to show a movie in a setting that is similarly outdoors.

"I pay a tax--an admissions and amusement tax--and therefore the state says you are an indoor theatre," D. Vogel said is the reason the state won't allow them to reopen. "Pretty ridiculous if you ask me," he added.
Vogel believes drive-in theatres are already perfect for social distancing because people are isolated in their cars.

“I could not think of a better place to go where you are in charge of your own personal safety,” Vogel said. "If you showed up here, you will be able to decide, do I roll the windows down [and] do I feel comfortable doing that. Do I stay in the car [or] do i sit outside."

Vogel also said he came up with a plan to open under certain restrictions. It includes making people park in every other space to ensure social distancing. He said he hopes the health department will approve the plan.

But, despite his pleas to the state, Vogel said the governor's office hasn't allowed him to open under any conditions.

"I don't understand. I just don't," he said.

Vogel said he has received money through the government's Paycheck Protection Program, but the funds are essentially gone.

He said if the state does not allow him to open soon, he may have to shut down for good.

"I sure as heck cannot go much longer," he said. "It just is that way."

Bengies has received support to open from people all over the state, including Baltimore county executive Johnny Olszewski.

The county executive said in a statement:

"Bengies Drive-in is a Baltimore County and Maryland institution. We need to be as creative as we can to respond to this evolving pandemic, and drive-ins are a common-sense option to provide needed relief while promoting public health practices. While the state’s order has closed all movie theaters, we’re actively doing all we can to ensure they can safely reopen as soon as possible.”

Governor Hogan's office also sent us a statement:

"Bengie's is a beloved Maryland institution with a great history. We have been in touch with their general manager, and this is something we continue to evaluate as we move through the recovery."

According to Bengies, County Executive Johnny Olszewski to Governor Hogan to get the theatre to open. Olszewski stating while the state has closed all movie theatres, the County is doing all they can to help Bengies safely reopen.