Hello, my name is Rick Cohen, and I own the Transit Drive-In Theatre , located in Lockport, New York, near Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
Beginning on Saturday, February 7, I will be walking 1,034 miles from Kissimmee, Florida, the site of the annual UDITOA Drive-In Owners Convention, to Camden, New Jersey, where the world's first drive-in opened on June 6, 1933. The backpacking journey is expected to take as long as six weeks.
Why I am doing this? Well, I definitely need the exercise, but there's a lot more to the story.
Over the years, I have witnessed countless drive-in theatres close and be sold for development, or sit unused and forgotten. Hundreds and thousands of drive-ins have closed around the United States over the past several decades, with the property they sit on being redeveloped for "higher use." The most recent upswing in drive-in related closures is being facilitated by a different and more alarming reason.
As if seasonal drive-in theatres didn't already have enough going against them, technological changes in the way new movies are shown on their screens is requiring all theatres to replace 35mm projectors with expensive digital equipment, at a cost of roughly $75,000 per screen. Drive-ins which cannot financially afford the transition will eventually be forced to go dark.
I feel very fortunate in that my drive-in is located in a region where the population base is large enough to support making this investment, which for us was an outlay of $300,000 for all four of our screens to go digital in 2012. Drive-ins located in rural, less densely populated areas are having a much more difficult time.
These mainly seasonal, small town, family operated, mom-and-pop drive-in operators simply do not generate the amount of revenue necessary to afford the transition to digital projection. They don't run their drive-ins to get rich, and some struggle from year-to-year just to remain open. In most situations, the drive-in operation is a secondary income to their main, full-time jobs during the daytime. They run their drive-ins out of passion for the outdoor movie experience, and a desire to provide their communities with affordable family-oriented entertainment.
In the entire United States, the number of operational drive-ins at the end of 2014 fell to around 330 locations, down from around 350 sites only one year earlier. More family owned, rural drive-ins are expected to close over the next few years, as the supply of 35mm prints from the movie studios is gradually discontinued in favor of digital technology which they can't afford to purchase on their own.
I am stepping forward with this fundraiser to help one of these drive-ins to buy a new digital projector, so they can continue to provide the outdoor movie experience for their community.
The drive-in which I have chosen to help make the conversion to digital is called the Auto-Vue , a single screen, family owned drive-in theatre located in Sidney, Ohio , which has been in continuous operation each summer since 1956. Without financial assistance, this drive-in will eventually go dark, along with many others, and they lack the resources to make the transition to digital technology on their own.
Any funds which exceed the original goal will go toward assisting additional drive-ins to make the conversion to digital.
While I will technically be walking 1,034 miles by myself through parts of nine east coast states, I will not be alone in spirit. The ghosts of thousands of closed American drive-in theatres and the memories of the people who miss them will be walking right beside me, along with the hopes of all the other small town drive-ins still struggling to keep their own big screen alive.
My goal is to raise enough money to assist at least one small town, mom-and-pop drive-in to remain open, while at the same time raising national awareness about the difficulty which many rural, small town drive-ins are facing to survive in the digital age. Thank you.
Wishing you all the best and all the luck in the world!!! I know my friend Teddy made a contribution to your fund earlier -- He needs help too, but wears his heart on his sleeve and is very compassionate. Maybe you could check out his campaign? Thanks!! Love and Peace.
Is there a page we can follow your journey on? I am sure you will be passing through the town I live in now, Lumberton, NC. My favorite job of all time was the 4 years I worked at Mansfield Drive In. I would love to bring some attention to your cause as you pass here. I now travel a couple hours a couple times each season to support the Badin Road Drive In, Albemarle, NC.
Rick thank you for your support of this family. Thresea and her family have been our friends for years our children have worked for them and we help out whenever we can. You have chosen a great place to help out.
There is a drive in on your way to New Jersey that is in Stephens City Virginia , Hope you stop by