As television grew more popular and multiplexes spread across America, offering air conditioning and stadium seating and all the accoutrements you could want, no one particularly cared that the summer vacation staple – the drive-in theater – was dying out.? There are only 400 drive-ins still operating today and I know of only a handful in all of New England and have yet to find one in Oregon.
But the drive-in is about magic.? The first movie I ever saw was Bambi at an Indiana drive-in.? I was tucked away in the back seat under blankets and pillows and got to watch the hunters kill Bambi’s mother.? Thanks mom and dad!? But I wouldn’t trade that or the chance to load up people into a car to watch a schlocky double feature.
Some owners, like D. Edward Vogel, administrative secretary of the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association and the passionate proprietor of Bengies, a drive-in theater in Baltimore, Md., are determined to succeed on ticket sales alone. He says he “puts [his] heart and soul into it. It’s taken 22 years but it’s a big payoff. People are really starting to appreciate and respect what I do.”
Wobbly finances aside, it seems that the drive-in is an American icon that will never completely fade ? perhaps because of its irrefutable and enduring appeal, says Wright. “If it were just nostalgia, people would come one night and they would go ‘Okay, did that, check that off the list,'” Wright says. “But it’s not that. They literally are coming every week, week after week. On a beautiful night, with the stars out, it is an experience that I think will survive.”
Well, yeah sure, you’ll always be able to find one theater owner who is doing okay, not great, mind you.? One of the big things is that in this age of on demand media, do most people even know drive-ins still exist?? That might be the hardest aspect of owning one of these theaters.
The problem for theater owners is that you can’t make the movies free to draw larger crowds because there is no system in place to make up the revenue through concession sales.? Most people just bring a cooler of food and beverages with them.? But if you could make the movies free and figure out another revenue stream you might just have a gold mine.