Charlotte-area Lowe’s turns into drive-in theater to help minority-owned businesses

Charlotte-area Lowe’s turns into drive-in theater to help minority-owned businesses
Lowe’s Home Improvement will give out buckets with snacks, masks and hand sanitizer during its drive-in movie theater Saturday and Sunday at the McMullen Creek Parkway store in Pineville. (Source: Lowe's Home Improvement)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - The Charlotte area’s first-ever Lowe’s Home Improvement drive-in movie theater will feature more than family movies this weekend at the Pineville store.

It’s also putting a spotlight on helping minority-owned businesses, such as Andarrio Johnson’s AMJ Catering in Charlotte, during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson estimates he’s lost between $5,000 and $10,000 since March because of cancellations and no bookings for weddings and corporate events because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Since opening the catering business, which serves Southern seafood and soul food mixed with French cuisine, 16 years ago, Johnson said he hasn’t been able to land any financial backing until now.

In June, Mooresville-based Lowe’s announced it would give $25 million to Local Initiatives Support Corp. grants offering relief for minority-owned businesses amid the pandemic. LISC is a nationwide community development group managing the process with 35 offices, including one in Charlotte.

Johnson applied and received a $20,000 grant.

“For years I’ve been trying to get grants and loans and never could get it,” Johnson said. “It (the pandemic) was a gift and a curse at the same time.”

Johnson plans to use the money to open his own commercial kitchen, about 1,500 square feet, in the University area and hire more employees. He said he usually has about 10 part-time workers.

“This gives me a chance to catch back up, and have my own catering kitchen now,” Johnson said.

THE DRIVE-IN EVENT

Lowe’s Night at the Movies drive-in theater at the McMullen Creek Parkway store is free. But donations will be accepted, with the company matching 2-to-1 up to $50,000 to help small businesses in Charlotte, said store manager Chris Beatty. Donations will be made electronically.

“This will be the first one here for Charlotte,” Beatty said of the Lowe’s drive-in theater.

The two-night event starts at 9:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, showing “The Secret Life of Pets” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” respectively.

Beatty said there are 100 spots. Reservations are required at lowes.com/diy.

Each registered car will get a bucket with snacks, hand sanitizers and wipes, masks and trash bags.

“This is just a way Lowe’s is stepping out of the box getting creative and to bring a taste of normal back,” Beatty said.

Movie theaters have been closed in North Carolina since March and will remain closed because Phase 2 of the safer-at-home executive order was extended this week by Gov. Roy Cooper until at least Aug. 7.

On Thursday, Lowe’s added another $5 million to the minority small business grants. It also doubled the amount committed to the LISC small business grant program by adding $25 million for rural communities hit by the pandemic, according to a company press release.

Johnson was in the first round of applications. Lowe’s spokeswoman Sarah Lively said the next application cycle opens July 27 for both programs.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Beatty said that before the movie’s start, Johnson will be recognized so people can see how their donations are helping here in Charlotte.

“People aren’t alone. Small business owners are going through hard times,” Beatty said, “and we’re here to help and get you back on your feet and be successful.”

Johnson, who also works as a personal chef and shares kitchen space with his cousin Anglee Brown at Cuzzo’s Cuisine on Tuckaseegee Road, has been lending a hand throughout the pandemic.

In partnership, the two have provided free lunches for children age 12 and younger from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, he said.

The meals of “whatever I can put together” vary daily, Johnson said. Some days it’s smoked barbecue with macaroni and cheese and vegetables and others, it’s the crowd-favorite chicken fingers and french fries.

He said that since March, they’ve fed more than 2,000 children.

“If you give, you’ll receive,” he said, “and look what Lowe’s did for me. They blessed me with this grant.”