VINELAND — The state's only drive-in movie theater is trying to get Gov. Phil Murphy's attention as it hopes to open for the season by Memorial Day.

The Delsea Drive-In was ready to open on March 20 but had to stay closed because of Murphy's executive order that prohibits non-essential businesses from opening. Owners John and Jude DeLeonardis believe they should be exempt given the nature of drive-in theaters, making them no different from drive-thru restaurants or curb side pick-up businesses.

"Watching movies from your vehicle while maintaining social distancing requirements is about as passive as an activity can be," they wrote on the the the theater's Facebook page.

The drive-in was first opened in 1949 and closed in 1987, according to their website. Jude DeLeonardis and her husband bought the facility in 2004. Jude DeLeonardis told New Jersey 101.5 that if they can't open by the end of May they won't generate enough revenue this year to pay the mortgage in July.

"If we can't open up with enough under our belt I don't have a game plan to pay that massive mortgage come the end of July. I don't know what will happen. It's a big question mark," she said.

The drive-in employs up to 26 part-time employees during the peak of the season, according to DeLeonardis, who said the season can go as far as December if the weather stays good. As of Tuesday morning she has not heard from the governor's office.

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, is advocating for the business.

"A drive-in movie theater is the ultimate social distancing activity for our families. This is a Vineland gem and it deserves to be open for our families. It is high time that Gov. Murphy and his administration stops picking winners and losers in this economic catastrophe," Testa said in a written statement.

DeLeonardis said they already had a plan for their concession stand to operate exclusively online with orders placed via an app for curbside pickup. Tickets would also be sold via the app starting this season.

"This season we're thinking of going exclusively online, which will be a big change for both us and the public that comes to us. But that's to maintain a degree of control because that's what's going to be necessary for the rest of this season," she said.

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Mayor Anthony Fanucci told New Jersey 101.5 he has also been working with Testa to get word to Murphy. Fanucci said it makes "perfect sense" to allow the theater to reopen.

"We've reached out to some of the folks we know in the inter-governmental affairs in the governor's office," Fanucci told New Jersey 101.5.

The DeLeonardises are not pleased about the planned  "pop up" drive-ins being opened by PJ Windle, owner and CEO of Back to the Movies Drive Ins.

"These entities are not classified as 'theaters.' These entities are attempting to capitalize on the state-mandated closures of existing legitimate drive-in theaters and indoor theaters. The Delsea remains New Jersey's 'only' true drive-in theater," Jude DeLeonardises said.

She's not sure what which movie her drive-in would screen when it reopens.

"The film broker has already told me the weekend before Memorial Day it would be something that came out at the beginning of this year that people didn't have opportunity to see because of COVID-19 and theaters closing," Jude DeLeonardises said.

The state Attorney General's Office shut two tulip farm drive-thru locations in Upper Freehold and Swedesboro in April because they were considered events, which violates the executive order.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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