Lubbock, Texas: Drive-In Theater Opens Due to Popular Demand for Outdoor Movies

Outdoor Movies at Stars and Stripes Drive-in; Lubbock, TexasStars and Stripes Drive-In is a state-of-the-art drive-in theater with three screens and capacity for 1000 cars to enjoy their outdoor movies. Stars and Stripes features both new and old films. Unlike most drive-ins, Stars and Stripes opened within the last 10 years, when there was a resurgence of popularity for outdoor movies and old-time drive-ins. The following is an article written when the theater was just opening, in 2003.

"Two-Screen Drive-In Theater to Open in Lubbock, Texas."

Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram Byline: John Austin LUBBOCK, Texas--What time and twisters didn't do to tumble Texas' drive-in theaters, developers and big-box retailers did. "There used to be 450 drive-ins in Texas," said Jennifer Miller, co-owner of Granbury's Brazos Drive-In. "Now, that's all there is in the United States." The first drive-in opened 70 years ago in New Jersey; by the 1950s, the theaters had won the hearts of American families seeking affordable entertainment and the affection of postwar teen-agers craving privacy. Suburban sprawl doomed many of the theaters in the '80s, and several closed when business was still good, according to Jennifer Sherer, co-creator of the Web site But the count will rise by two screens when a new twin drive-in lights the night outside Lubbock. The Stars & Stripes Drive-In is slated to open Tuesday on 24 acres along U.S. 84 northwest of town. There's room for 1,000 vehicles and space for a third screen if business warrants. The owner is Ryan Smith, a laconic 25-year-old Southern Methodist University law school dropout. He is staking $750,000 to $1.5 million -- he won't say exactly how much -- in loans and family savings to convert a patch of dusty West Texas cropland into what he hopes will be a field of greenbacks. "I grew up always hearing about the drive-in," Smith said. "It was just a proud part of our family's history." Smith will shoot for the family crowd with double features such as PG-rated Freaky Friday and G-rated Finding Nemo. He'll also screen PG-13 fare such as S.W.A.T. "If this guy is building one from scratch," said drive-in movie columnist Joe Bob Briggs, "that's an amazing story." Smith isn't the only entrepreneur trying to draw moviegoers out of the air conditioning. Sherer knows of at least 426 operational American drive-ins. Thirty-seven have been built since 1990; 14 of those have gone up since 2000. New drive-ins have also been built in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. New technology has replaced the heavy, metal speakers that patrons once hung from their windows -- and sometimes drove off with. Sound systems now allow customers to listen to the movie soundtrack on their FM radios. That's what Smith will use. "Is [business] booming? No," said Tim Patton, president of Cinema Service in Dallas, which books films for regional and independent theaters in about a dozen states. "Is there a resurgence? Yes." Briggs attributes some of the drive-in's demise to the popularity of compact cars in the 1970s. "SUVs are great for drive-ins," he said. A second baby boom has also helped hatch a new audience looking for an affordable family-friendly entertainment venue. "For a family of four to go out to a regular movie, it's $70," with soft drinks and snacks, said Rhett Butler Burns, owner of the Tascosa Drive-in in Amarillo. "Here, you can get in and get your popcorn and a Coke for $30." It's unlikely that the numbers will ever match the 1958 national peak of about 4,000 drive-ins, or that drive-ins will again attract personal appearances by stars such as Raquel Welch. "John Wayne came for the outdoor premiere of True Grit," Briggs said, referring to a long-ago appearance at a Dallas drive-in. "He stood on top of the concession stand and fired off his pistols." Not every proprietor features family-friendly fare. "The Apache Drive-In shows X-rated [films] until this day," Briggs said. "You can call up anybody in Tyler and ask them if they know this place. They'll just go, 'heh heh heh heh.' " Smith's grandfather, Skeet Noret, opened the Sky-Vue Drive-In in Lamesa -- pronounced Lameesa by folks in West Texas -- in 1948. Although Noret eventually sold the Sky-Vue, the 81-year-old still runs his Lubbock walk-in cinema. His wife helps pop the corn. Smith's mother, Linda, owns a two-screen indoor theater in Snyder. And the Sky-Vue is thriving: A recent Sunday-night double feature brought in 443 patrons at $4 a head. Smith is using a pair of vintage water-cooled Century projectors from one of his grandfather's old theaters. He's also bringing in another heirloom: Though he won't have fried chicken gizzards like the Sky-Vue, he will feature the famous Chihuahua sandwich. The $2 treat consists of chili, grated cabbage, pimento cheese and a pickled jalapeno between two fried corn tortillas. It's presently only available at the Sky-Vue. "And some people like onions," Smith said. "It sounds crazy, but it works: either last summer or last year, they sold over 25,000." Smith's great-grandfather concocted the recipe. Smith will have to pay his granddad a royalty on each one, but he figures it'll be worth it. After all, Noret said, "food" is the one-word answer to what it takes to keep fans flocking to drive-ins. Hands-on management is also key. Noret and his wife still run things at the Showplace, his Lubbock discount theater. "Your name's on the note, you better be there," he told his grandson during a recent trip to the Stars & Stripes construction site. "You hear me, boy?" The last drive-in picture show closed in Lubbock years ago. "There's a Kmart there and lots of memories," Smith said. But Burns, of Amarillo, figures the Hub City will support the startup. Burns reopened the deserted Amarillo drive-in and began screening first-run flicks in 1999. "All that was left was the screen," he said. Lightning had destroyed its mate. "There was probably 80 trees growing up in that screen that I had to cut down." Eight bankers turned down his loan application before he finally got financing. "They said I was crazy," said Burns, a registered nurse and father of two who has kept his day job. "I got ulcers my first year. I got a hernia. "My projector is a 1941. Nobody wants to tell you how to run this stuff." Sam Kirkland will testify to that. He and his wife have run the Sky-Vue since taking over from Noret more than 20 years ago. "I'm my own projectionist," said Kirkland, standing outside the projection booth on a summer Sunday evening. "I'm my own janitor." It appears to have paid off. Under a toenail moon, about two dozen youngsters romped on playground equipment that Smith's great-grandfather built when the Sky-Vue was new. The temperature was picture-perfect, and a line of cars stretched from the street to the box office. Taking it all in, Smith acknowledged that running a drive-in will be a far cry from practicing law in Dallas like his dad. But his grandfather built the Sky-Vue when he was 25, and Smith said it's important for him to bring the tradition full circle with a showplace of his own. He's not the only one who's ready for the show to go on. Bobby Sanders has been supplying Noret's theaters with soda pop for years. He was at the Stars & Stripes recently to assemble some displays for Smith, but he's got more than just a professional interest. Sanders said he's taking his wife to opening night, regardless of what's playing. "I'm going to drop the top on the Z3," said Sanders, grinning. "And I'm going to smooch, too". Read full article at:

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