Drive-ins have been on the road to extinction for the last 60 years. In Ohio they have dwindled to only 24 drive-ins from a peak of 190 in the late 1960s.
Drive-ins back in the day were a popular family destination. Mom would cook a big bag of popcorn, dad would load the kids up in the car and everyone was off to create some of their best memories ever.
Kids could even play outside before the movie started with many drive-ins having their own playgrounds. You could put your blanket on the hood of the car or in the back of the truck bed and eat popcorn and candy and watch a movie while outdoors. It doesn’t get much better than that if you are a kid (or an adult for that matter). It was almost like going on vacation for one night.
Well, due to the current pandemic situation those family “one night vacations” are on their way back. Drive-ins are actually coming back strong now and in different and creative ways also.
Going out for dinner and a movie with the family is no simple task anymore with all the closings, restrictions and, COVID-19 social distancing. As a result, drive-in theaters have been making this big comeback and popping up all over the country as a safe alternative to the traditional movie theater. You can even get pizza, burgers, funnel cakes, and snacks at the drive-in.
Many business owners who have had to shut down their storefronts due to COVID-19 restrictions are now reopening old drive-ins or creating make-shift drive-ins in parking lots to make ends meet.
Concerts and more at drive-ins
Even concert promoters are turning to the drive-in as a safe alternative to traditional concert venues that have all but shut down to a standstill.
Rock band Metallica performed for the “Encore Drive-In Nights” series at hundreds of drive-ins across America including many in Oho on Aug. 29. Singer Garth Brooks also recently performed a live concert for his fans that was shown on 120 drive-in screens across the nation and locally. On July 25, Blake Shelton, with Gwen Stefani and Trace Adkins, performed on the big screen as well. The annual Dayton URS Rubber Duck Regatta, presented by Synchrony, was held virtually on Sept. 18 at the Dixie Twin Drive-in.
Many other top bands and musicians are jumping on board now with drive-in concerts, performing on screen and even performing live in person at the actual drive-in venue. Casting Crowns will be performing live and in person at the Dixie Drive-in on Friday, Oct. 2. Country star Kane Brown’s encore concert will be shown at the DixieTwin on Saturday, Sept. 26 and at hundreds of other drive-ins across America.
On Monday, Sept. 28 the Dayton Independent Film Festival will take place at the DixieTwin Drive-In showing 10 short films that evening.
In Pigeon Forge at the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee there are plans for an “Indoor Dome Drive-in” called the August Moon Theatre, Bar & Grill, complete with real classic cars to sit in, a panoramic starry sky overhead, pathways, and even real trees.
And finally, mega retailer Walmart has recently announced it is converting 160 of its U.S. store parking lots into drive-in movie theaters. Locations and movie titles have not yet been announced. The event will run through October and is projected to have more than 300 showings.
Ohio currently ranks third in the nation for number of drive-ins per state with 24. New York ranks No. 1, and Pennsylvania ranks No. 2.
The Starlight Auto Theater in Akron was the first drive-in to open in Ohio. It opened in 1937 and was one of the first 10 drive-ins in the country.
The Lynn Auto Theater in Strasburg, near Canton, is the oldest currently operating drive-in Ohio and the second oldest in the world.
Below is a complete listing of all drive-ins in Ohio with two top drive-ins only a short distance (15-30 minute drive) from Greene County — the Dixie Drive-in and the Melody 49. Many other drive-ins are just a short fun road trip to the Cincinnati and Columbus areas.
Dixie Twin Drive-in — 6201 North Dixie Drive, Vandalia: The Dixie Drive-in was originally opened as a single screen drive-in but added a second screen later down the line.
Melody 49 Twin Drive-in — 7606 Pleasant Plains Road, Brookville: The Melody 49 Twin Drive-in opened in 1966 as a single screen drive-in theater. In 1987 it added a second screen to become a twin drive-in.
Starlite Drive-in — 2255 Ohio Pike, Amelia: The Starlite Drive-in is a single screen outdoor theater that was opened in 1955.
Skyview Cruise-in Theatre — 2420 East Main Street, Lancaster: One of Ohio’s oldest drive-ins, the Skyview Cruise-in Theatre has been operating since 1948.
Holiday Auto Theatre — 1816 Oxford Highway, Hamilton: The Holiday Auto Theatre opened in 1948 as the Hamilton Outdoor Theatre. The current owners purchased it in 1985 and made major improvements.
South Drive-in — 3050 South High Street, Columbus: The Columbus South Drive-in is a huge two-screen, 1100-car drive-in theater. They also hold large flea markets there on the weekends.
Other drive-ins in Ohio
If you have family or friends in other areas of Ohio, you might want to turn it into an overnighter trip with a group and get the carload discounted rate. Here is a listing of all the remaining drive-ins in Ohio: Sidney Auto-Vue Drive-in (Sidney); Hi-Road Drive-in (Kenton); Starlight Drive-in (Maria Stein); Tiffin Field of Dreams Drive-in (Tiffin); Lynn Auto Theatre (Strasburg); Magic City Drive-in (Cleveland); Mayfield Road Drive-in (Chardon); Liberty Center Field of Dreams Drive-in (Liberty Center); Springmill Drive-in (Mansfield); Van-Del Drive-in (Middle Point); Auto-O-Rama Drive-in Theatre (North Ridgeville); Star View Drive-in (Sandusky); Sundance Kid Drive-in (Oregon); Midway Drive-in (Ravenna); Blue Sky Drive-in (Wadsworth); Elm Road Triple Drive-in (Warren); Skyway Twin Drive-in (Warren); and Winter Drive-in (Wintersville).
Ron Brohm is an outdoors writer and regular contributor to this newspaper.