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Load up the station wagon, drive-in theaters are coming back

4:28 AM, Jul 9, 2012   |    comments
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Load the family in the car. Drive-in theaters are making a comeback.

New outdoor theaters are opening, and shuttered ones are being revived as people rediscover the pleasures of watching movies outdoors with no restrictions on chatting, screaming kids, cellphone use or smoking, says Kipp Sherer of drive-ins.com.

The website, which tracks and celebrates the industry, says there are 364 drive-ins in the USA, down from their peak of at least 4,000 in 1958. In 2007, there were 406. The first drive-in theater opened in Camden, N.J., in 1933.

"People love the communal experience," Sherer says.

Bart Lower and his family decided to build a drive-in, Danny Boy's in Ionia, Mich., after Google told him that more than 90,000 people in Michigan search for "drive-in movie" each month. The theater opens this month.

"It's going to be a new way to see a movie for a lot of people," Lower says.

Paul Allsup hopes to rescue the Linton Drive-in in Linton, Ind., which opened in 1948 and closed in 1999. He expects to open in late August or early September.

Elsewhere:

•Tulsa's Admiral Twin, which opened in 1951 and burned down in 2010, reopened June 15. "The community kind of rallied around us and started actually just giving us money to rebuild," co-owner Blake Smith says.

"There is definitely a resurgence of drive-ins," he says, maybe because people "are tired of the sterile environment" in multiplexes. Rising land values a few years ago "pretty much caused all the drive-ins to go away," Smith says.

•The Full Moon Drive-in opens July 20 in San Diego. "People are really connecting with nostalgia," partner David Adler says.

•Cameron Grimm and Paul Goodson have formed a foundation and plan to operate the Skyvue Drive-in in New Castle, Ind., as a non-profit. They hope to reopen it in May.

•The Blue Starlite Drive-in opened Wednesday in Austin. It can accommodate 50 cars and 100 walk-in customers; a parking lot that owner Josh Frank had been using had room for far fewer.

Sherer warns that the revival might not last long: The movie industry is switching from 35mm film to digital, and many small drive-ins can't afford digital projectors. "A lot of drive-ins most likely won't open next year," he says.

By Judy Keen

USA Today

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