In 1987, 19 year-old Rick Cohen took over the family business, operating the iconic Transit Drive In. Rick’s grandparents were involved in building and purchasing a number of movie theatres around the region and in 1957 they purchased the Transit Drive In from a group of Buffalo area businessmen. The theatre was run by the Cohens and their children, including Rick’s father Macy, until Rick took it over shortly after graduating from Williamsville East.
Even at such a young age, Rick dove in feet first converting the theater to FM stereo sound and installing a platter film system to improve presentation quality. The original 1950’s neon marquee was completely rebuilt and overtime Rick multiplexed the theatre to 5 screens. One would think that nothing could have prepared Rick for Covid-19 and the impact it would have on the family business. But think again.
Rick is determined, creative and self-reliant (he still does his own neon repairs) and was able to create an entertainment experience that was safe and accessible during our “Summer of Covid.” “Overall, things have gone very well,” Rick notes. “We have been successful creating a socially distant but friendly environment this summer.”
Rick admits though that it has been stressful, but he feels a deep sense of responsibility to the community: “The health and safety of our staff and customers has been our top priority. I think of the Jewish saying, ‘He who saves one life saves the world entire.’ That’s how I try to live my life and in these times how I try to run my business.”
Rick grew up in Williamsville and was a camper at both Camp Centerland and Camp Lakeland. He and his family were members of Temple Beth Zion and Rick attributes much of his decision-making on Jewish values. “My grandparents were very observant and I learned a great deal from them and my parents. I think of them a lot, especially during this time.” There have been many occasions and gatherings that Rick has made possible this summer at the Drive In, like weddings and High School graduation ceremonies, but perhaps none is more meaningful than enabling Congregation Shir Shalom (CSS) to hold High Holy Day worship services this month. “A close family friend, who worked at the Drive In while in High School, reached out to me to ask if would be able to accommodate her congregation. I told her that we’d be thrilled to do it.”
For the Transit Drive In – it’s “all in the family.” For three generations, the Cohens have brought summer fun to hundreds of thousands of Western New Yorkers, and now will be making it possible for the CSS family to celebrate the New Year in a safe environment. “My grandparents would be so pleased that CSS is using our space. They would consider it a mitzvah to come through for our community during this difficult time.”
Three generations of the Cohen Family have owned the Transit Drive-in. Macy Cohen, Mary Cohen and Rick Cohen.