Big screen? Loud Sounds? Outdoors? Family & Friends Packed in One Car? Popular Movies? Double Features? Date Night? Concessions? Did you instantly think of the Drive-in Movie Theater? If so, you are correct! Mr. Percy Scott, one of the Chicago Defender’s 2016 “Men of Excellence” honorees and President/Founder of Global 360 Marketing, exemplifies beating the odds and booming in business. On Mother’s Day 2020, Mr. Scott, along with his business partner, Ms. Rita Lee, who is also an entrepreneur, owner of NuFace Entertainment joined forces to launch PR Pop-Ups. This is a turn-key mobile drive-in operation that can be quickly set up at sites across the city and state. They have already executed operations in Chicago south suburbs’ Harvey and Hazel Crest and have plans to expand to more Chicago Southland locations in the near future.
Percy Scott is from Robbins, Illinois, and the son of two blind parents. His family was extremely poor, and at the age of five, his father left home. Though his mother could not see, Percy warmly expresses how she gave him sight through what she put in him. Between his mom and God, he received a vision for who he was and what he would become. He began his career in entertainment, working for WGCI and V103. In addition to his roles at Global 360 Marketing and PR Pop-Ups, Percy is also the executive director at Chamber 57, a 501c-3 organization whose mission is ‘delivering results, building and growing the I-57 business community (i.e., Matteson, Richton Park, Olympia Fields, University Park, and Park Forest communities).
I spoke with Mr. Scott and Ms. Rita about PR Pop-Ups. We discussed the passion and purpose that drove them to start a drive-in and why they are so dedicated to offering this source of entertainment in the south suburbs, first.
Why start a business during a pandemic?
From Scott: We came together to start PR Pop-Ups because of COVID-19. When it hit, we were looking for things to be out-of-the-box, different, and had to change the way we do business. With our marketing company [Global 360 Marketing], people stopped doing concerts and having concerts because they could not get any more due to COVID. We were talking, and Rita came up with the idea to do a drive-in.
From Rita: We wanted to do PR Pop-Ups to give the communities of the south suburbs and people of our culture some normalcy during the time of panic. When McHenry [drive-in] opened, we thought we would be the balancer in distance and an opportunity for the families to do some nostalgia and come together. Everybody is saying stay home, but we need each other to heal from all viruses.
Why the south suburbs and not the city of Chicago?
From Scott: A lot of times, the south suburbs are the first to get hit the hardest and the last to receive any help. We wanted to make sure that we did it here in the south suburbs first. First of all, to prove that it could be done and done right. We did it in Harvey because they have the stigma of some troubles and violence, and we wanted to show the world that we can do something positive in any community. We did our first drive-in pop-up in Harvey, on Mother’s Day weekend and SOLD OUT. We were right here in Harvey hosting another drive-in while all the looting and rioting was going on in Chicago and suburbs. Here, at PR Pop-ups in Harvey, we had no clue what was going on outside of our environment for that moment. It was like the United Nations here – everybody loving, laughing, enjoying a wonderful experience even amid apparent turmoil around us.
How long did the process take – from idea to in business?
From Rita: We got approval from the mayor of Harvey on Friday morning. 9 pm, Friday the flyer is ready. 9 am [Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day], we have 500 cars reserved.
From Scott: On social media, we had over 350,000 shares. It was crazy. And it was so crazy because people were saying it was trouble, “a death trap waiting to happen,” “why are y’all doing it in Harvey?”, why don’t you all do it in another community. We showed everybody that people can come anywhere and have a good time. It is not about what you do but who is doing it. We make sure that when we do things, we do them in excellence, the right way.
What made Hazel Crest the next site for your drive-in pop-up?
From Scott: Hazel Crest [the mayor] called and said ‘we see what you guys did in Harvey, I want you to come and do it here. I’m going to introduce you to this guy who has all this land and not doing anything with it.’ We came and developed this out (14 acres of land), put the plan in place, showed him our vision, and told us what we could do. And now, here we are. We have been doing very well for the last month, and we are ready to take it to the next level.
It is hard enough to start a business even when you have all your I’s dotted and T’s crossed. Now, we are all dealing with COVID. How in the world did you make such an ambitious business move in the middle of a pandemic?
From Scott and Rita (simultaneously): FAITH!!
From Scott: Everybody needs something right now. People are dying. They are stuck in the house. Frustrated. All you hear is misery. How can we make people have fun, feel safe, and help our community out at the same time? The pop-up movie theater idea was the perfect opportunity to do that. It is a way for people to get out of the house because they are tired of being cooped up. They feel safe because they are in their own car with their families. You have kids who have never been to a drive-in, and so to offer this in their neighborhood was most important. We did not want to do this where people had to drive all over. We wanted our people to come to our communities to experience this.
From Rita: We must give a Bravo to Kevin Scruggs of Sunset Cinema. People were telling them not to do business with us because our vision was [in their opinion] foolish. He saw differently and now look at us – we have been nonstop since Mother’s Day. Why? Because a like-minded conglomerate of business owners dropped anchor and came together for the greater good of people, not profits. Period.
What is the dynamic of you and Rita’s working relationship?
From Scott (while laughing out loud): Yeah, Rita and I get along so well. As you can see, she is the Yin to my Yang.
From Rita: With PR Pop-Ups, both of our companies own it. We service the people and each other.
From Scott: That’s why I love her [Rita]. She is a servant by heart, and I am a servant by nature. Us working together is a beautiful thing.
Earlier, you mentioned McHenry. We have seen the local news highlight McHenry’s [IL] drive-in theater multiple times since they opened. You are over here in the south suburbs doing the same thing but with limited media visibility. How does that make you feel?
From Rita: We appreciate it. With them being an established drive-in, they gave us the procedures to get open ourselves without permission. We appreciate them, but the difference is we did not do it for [public] notoriety. We did it for the community that needed to have somebody care. So, the first thing we did was let essential workers and healthcare professionals get in for free. It is about giving back, and that is what mattered to us. Whatever press we got was okay. But the level of love and support, mayors calling us, kids smiling, families smiling – you do not have to report that, right? God is going to report for us. That is why we are blessed.
From Scott: Our theater was never intended to make a million dollars. Our theater was created to change families and to help enhance the lives in our community. We are going through something right now that nobody has been through. It is tough being at home for three months, and people are/were waiting to get out. Now, we have the perfect solution for that.
From Rita: When you see McHenry open, you [may] start to think you are not worthy. Thinking ‘why can they gather at the drive-in and I can’t.’ We prevented that conversation from happening and balanced this thing so we [too] can have healthy “Social Distance Entertainment.” That is what we call it or #SDE.
Will you be showing new releases? Or is that a completely different process?
From Scott: It is the same process. New releases are not happening because they are going straight to video or stream right now. We can show new releases, but they just are not coming out right now. The next [movie] we are going to show is the “Da Five Bloods” by Spike Lee. Right now, our goal is to show the classics; you know the movies that make you feel good, feel proud. We already have them scheduled. As we find out they are coming out, we jump right on it.
Do you have a song, quote, or self-created saying that has kept you level-headed and sane?
From Scott: Yes, the song “More Than Anything” by Lamar Campbell. Whatever is going on, He is more than that. My God is greater than my circumstance. So, that is the way that I live.
From Rita (with great enthusiasm): We’re a public relations solution for anybody in the world. We are willing to pull-up and pop-out in Jesus Name. I said it.
What would you like to share with upcoming entrepreneurs about achieving their goals, especially during times like these?
From Scott: Go for what you believe in. If you do things the right way, work hard, then good things will happen for you. People do not just come to our drive-in because it is a drive-in. Now, there is a lot of great drive-ins going around. People come here because of the energy we put out. Whatever you put out; you get back. And so, because of who we are, that’s why people come out.
Location, Location, Location
PR Pop-Ups’ Hazel Crest Drive-In is located about one mile east of 167th and Kedzie at Cross Pointe Park. As soon as you arrive at the gates, you cannot help but notice the sea of flags hovering over the entrance. Ms. Rita Lee explained that they hope to be recognized as a “united front of excellence” by all who come to experience what they’ve penned as “Social Distance Entertainment aka #SDE. Their Hazel Crest drive-in pop-up at Cross Pointe is the perfect location as it “crosses” one the following expressways at some “point” – I80, I94, and I57.
PR Pop-Ups has received a warm reception from the City of Harvey and the Village of Hazel Crest’s mayors, law enforcement officials, the fire department, and people from all over the Chicagoland area. Mr. Scott shared that since they opened on Mother’s Day Weekend, they’ve already had some pretty spectacular memorable moments – a cell phone light show during the Purple Rain movie shown on the one and only Prince’s birthday, two wedding proposals, a drive-in edition of the “Cha-Cha” slide, and a girls-night-out that included 15 cars. This is the whole premise of PR Pop-Ups – to bring family, unity, culture, and the “it takes a village” vibe back to our communities. Scott and Lee have gracefully silenced the naysayers who felt strongly that this form of entertainment could not be done nor successful in our communities.
It is no secret that COVID-19 has been and still is a terrible blow to many Chicago-based businesses. Many business owners have been forced to shut down permanently; many temporarily and others have been able to “thrive” by significantly reducing their services, staff, and/or hours of operation. Still, some entrepreneurs have taken this uncertain time to redevelop and refresh their creativity. They have come up with business ideas and concepts, hoping that they will result in profits during a pandemic, feed the needs of our communities, and give birth to yet another purpose directly linked to their passion, again, right amid an epidemic. Mr. Scott and his team are the “they” that I speak of. They are the “they” who are genuinely committed to bringing quality entertainment to the south suburbs. It is no shock that Mr. Percy Scott was honored as a man of excellence and that four years later, he remains a reckoning force of leadership, servanthood, and positivity in the Black community.
PR Pop-Ups hopes to collaborate with other municipalities to bring the nostalgic, classic entertainment that drive-in theaters have offered movie-goers for generations. Percy, Rita, and their team which also includes his 12-year old son, Zavier who assists with directing the cars in and out and Olivia Butts, his intern who is a journalism major and will be a junior at U of I in the fall, are all definitely on the upside of this surging popularity of drive-in movie theaters. We can ensure that they maintain relevance and success by financially supporting this endeavor and sharing this experience with family and friends.
For more information on PR Pop-Ups, marketing opportunities, to view their upcoming movie schedule, and to purchase tickets, please visit their website at www.prpopups.com. You may follow PR Pop-Ups and their business partners on social media: Instagram @prpopups, @nufaceentertainment, @sunset_cinema1, and Facebook @prpopups.
**Chicago Defender Exclusive and Special Announcement from PR Pop-Ups**
PR Pop-Ups presents “DJ Drama and Friends, “Headlights,” a LIVE Drive-In Musical Festival. On July 24 through 27, 2020, get ready for this exclusive, intimate concert experience – 4 Nights, 3 Locations, 2 Shows Each Night, 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm. This epic concert series will include performances from the following artists: Hollyhood Bay Bay, Keedron Bryant, Da Baby, PatricKxxLee, Charles Jenkins, and Keke Wyatt. For more information, please go to www.prpopus.com.
Kim Durden is a lifestyle writer for the Chicago Defender and the owner of Divine Dine Food Tours. You can find her own Instagram and Facebook at @divinedinefoodietours.