Eye on KELOLAND: Drive-in theatres making a comeback because of COVID-19


MITCHELL, S.D. and LUVERNE, Minn. (KELO) — A family-friendly activity is making a comeback this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the New York Film Academy, the first patented drive-in was opened on June 6, 1933 but their popularity really began to take off in the 1950s and ’60s. At their prime, the United States had over four thousand drive-in movie theaters. Locally, South Dakota had 31, Minnesota had 80 and Iowa had nearly 70. Today, those numbers are less than ten.

“The drive-in business just kind of went bust for a whole number of societal and competitive factors,” Jeff Logan, president of Logan Luxury Theatres said.

Mitchell’s Starlite Drive-in Theatre dates back to 1949. In 2013, the credits rolled on the drive-in and the screen went blank. Jeff Logan, the President of Logan Luxury Theatres, said they kept the land hoping to one day show movies again, but never expected that day would actually come. Then the pandemic hit.

“This year with the Coronavirus and social distancing, drive-ins seem like the perfect answer for people to be able to get out, stay safe and maintain social distancing,” Logan said.

In its first month of showing movies again, the theater has seen a positive response.

“There’s a whole new generation that’s never experienced it. We closed seven years ago and there aren’t many drive-ins around anymore. So now we’re getting to introduce it to a whole new generation of kids, which is great. Teenagers even, even some of our staff here had never been to one themselves or didn’t remember going to one. It’s been really cool to see people just light up and experience something that they didn’t think they’d get to experience ever,” Jenny Gades, vice-president of Logan Luxury Theatres said.

Meanwhile in Luverne, Minnesota, the Verne Drive-In is also excited to see what this summer will bring.

“Movie theaters are closed, new movies, I don’t think, are getting released for awhile. But for drive-ins, especially, even when we’re getting older movies, people still want to come out because they don’t really have anything to do,” Doug Rozeboom, operator of Verne Drive-in said.

Between having a socially distant activity and feeling that sense of nostalgia, people have rolled back to the drive-in.

“It’s just a different atmosphere, our family’s always liked movies. I grew up by Madison, South Dakota, and we had drive-in movies. Got to watch Smokey and the Bandit on the big screen there. So it’s just a different experience as a family versus being in the theater versus being at home versus outside, a beautiful evening like this,” Tim Bickett, a movie-goer said.

“The town I grew up in had a drive-in and I remember, before it closed, my sister and my cousin bringing me. I was about four years old just sitting in the front seat with them. It was pretty cool,” Heather Kraai, a movie-goer said.

The drive-in has an atmosphere the whole family can enjoy.

“It’s just not a place to go watch movies, it’s a place where you can hang out with your friends, have a good time with your family, bring the kids to the drive-in,” Rozeboom said.

“It’s more relaxed and casual, you’re outdoors, when you get a beautiful South Dakota evening like this. So you mix the fresh outdoor air with the smell of popcorn and hot dogs, it’s just a lot of fun,” Logan said.

Both the Starlite Drive-in and the Verne Drive-in have implemented options for ordering your favorite movie snacks digitally to avoid lines in the snack centers.

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