MT. ZION, W.Va. — A piece of Americana is in on the brink of extinction. Drive-in movie theaters could be finished after this year as production houses end their use of 35mm projector film. Drive-in operators will have to upgrade to digital projection systems. The price tag for the conversion is around $85,000.
“It’s not economical for us to take out a loan and do that,” said Bonnie Sands, manager of the Mt. Zion Drive-In in Calhoun County. “It would take us the next 50 years to pay it off.”
The Mt. Zion Drive-In and the Meadow Bridge Drive-In are the last in West Virginia. They are the gathering place in those rural communities on summer Friday and Saturday nights. They also draw customers from larger cities who’ll make the drive to share the experience with their children.
“We have the concession stand and people come here to eat their dinner. They enjoy it on the tailgate and have family time,” said Sands. “We become the hangout for the local kids. They bring their bikes and ride them before the show and we have swings and a playground.”
Typically Sands said they’ll get an average of 50 cars on a summer weekend night, but this year has been well above average as many fear it may be the last chance to see a picture show under the stars.
Sands however is hopeful enough support exists to get them over the hump. Honda and Sony Pictures have established “Project Drive-In.” It’s a promotion to help save the drive-in movie theater across the country.
“America gets to vote for the top five drive-ins,” said Sands. “Those top five drive-ins get a digital cinema, paid for by Honda and save their drive-in.”
Both Mt. Zion and Meadow Bridge are on the website. Sands is hopeful the support will be there in West Virginia to help them make the top five. The Mt. Zion Drive-In has been in business since 1950 and Sands’ family has run the establishment since 1979.