You can’t just walk out of a drive-in

One advantage Flyover Country has over our coastal brethren is the availability of land. And what better use for that land than the cherished drive-in?

So of course, FOC is leading the resurgence with Drive-in 3.0

Here’s the drive-in’s backstory.

On June 6, 1933, car parts salesman and movie fan Richard Hollingshead opened America’s first drive-in, called Automobile Movie Theater, in Camden, NJ. The name just sings, doesn’t it? But to be fair, “automobile” was probably the SEO keyword of its day. Besides, his slogan definitely got the value prop across: “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

In 1950, Hollingshead’s patent was overturned, opening the door to a deluge of new theaters across the country. The next two decades saw their number grow to more than 4,000 before tailing off (and then declining) as Daylight Saving Time reared its ugly head, VHS and color TV arrived, and urban sprawl jacked up land prices, making it more profitable for theater owners to sell to developers than thread up the reels.

Drive-ins began to wink out. The movie industry’s switch from film to digital sank even more of them, especially those in smaller communities, because the cost of digital projectors was out of reach.

So why is this still a thing?

Even though the number of drive-ins in the US has dropped to around 325, Americans are still embracing the concept. In fact, there’s been something of a resurgence, with new drive-ins springing up and shuttered ones being restored and revived.

Thriving drive-ins have gotten creative, too. It’s not just about the screenings these days. Here are some of the features that drive-ins have parlayed into business success:

Sand volleyball, badminton, Ferris wheels, gourmet and locally sourced concessions, mini golf, beer patios, in-car heaters, theme-based movie festivals, concerts, flea markets, and camping facilities. Also, some drive-ins are dog-friendly. In short, drive-ins have caught up with cultural trends.

And because the magic of the drive-in is a natural fit for small-town America, many theaters are situated in the heartland. For instance:

  • Strasburg, OH: The Lynn Auto Theater, built in 1937, is the second oldest operating drive-in in the US.
  • Georgetown, IN: Originally opened as a single screen drive-in theater in 1951, the Georgetown Drive-in is now a two screener showing double features on both screens (and sometimes 3 movies per screen) while seasonally open.
  • LaGrange, KY: Completed in 2018, the brand new Sauerbeck Family Drive-in was open 28 days before a windstorm destroyed its screen, forcing the theater to close for six months. It’s back up and running.
  • Dearborn, MI: The Ford-Wyoming Theatre (renamed Ford Drive-In) once had nine screens and room for 3,000 cars. Now it’s down to five screens and 2,500 cars.
  • Springer, OK: Another recent entrant, the Cool Breeze RV Cinema and Resort, is sort of “chocolate meets peanut butter,” merging a drive-in theater with an RV campground.
  • Jesup, GA: Opened in 1948, Jesup Drive-In has had its ups and downs. But the current owners have been exploring various innovations to create a “nostalgia ambience.” Like letting patrons order food via mobile phone and having it delivered by servers dressed in carhop outfits. There’s a summer dream job.
  • Terre Haute, IN: The Moon-Lite Drive-Thru Theater just opened in the site of the original North Drive-In, which closed in 1988.

We’re watching this phenomenon and we’ll let you know about its progress.