Drive-In Theater Sees Revival In Illinois

Robert Siegel and Michele Norris talk about a Belleville, Ill., drive-in theater that will reopen this summer.

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As the Internet grows, and downloadable movies are on everyone's iPod, it's hard to imagine a drive-in-movie-theater boom, but in Belleville, Illinois, that seems to be happening.


But first, in case you're too young to know what a drive-in movie theater is, it's a giant, outdoor, flat-screen device that hundreds of people can watch together from their cars. You don't get a remote. Only one person, he's called the projectionist, controls what you see. Food is available on the site, and there's a playground, too.

(Soundbite of film)

Unidentified Announcer: The show starts in one minute.

(Soundbite of car starting)

NORRIS: Yesterday, the city council in Belleville gave the green light to the Skyview Drive-In to add a third screen to its site because business has been so good.

SIEGEL: To make room for the third screen, the owners will knock down a multiplex theater that has been condemned for years. Steve Bloomer is co-owner of Stargazers Entertainment that operates the Skyview. It's a long-time family business.

Mr. STEVE BLOOMER (Co-owner, Stargazers Entertainment): My grandfather and his two brothers built it.

NORRIS: The theater has been in operation for 61 summers. Bloomer says he grew up in the drive-in.

Mr. BLOOMER: I knew how to operate a movie projector when I was five years old.

(Soundbite of film)

Unidentified Announcer #2: Step right over to our refreshment center for the most extravagant array of refreshment goodies ever assembled under one roof.

SIEGEL: At one time, across the country, there were thousands of drive-in movie theaters. Now, only a few hundred remain. They became victims of the home video revolution, and those enormous lots for the outdoor theaters became prime targets for real estate speculators who saw an opportunity to build strip malls. But for a variety of reasons, the theater in Belleville was never gobbled up.

Mr. BLOOMER: So as a result, we were kind of forced to continue to operate it, and as a result, we survived the slump in drive-ins in the '80s and '90s, and we've come back to be a real strong option for families to see a movie.

(Soundbite of film)

Unidentified Announcer #3: Still plenty of time to come and be served at the refreshment center before show time.

NORRIS: And while Bloomer says indoor theaters have their place, in the warm months, families like the outdoor experience and appreciate the cost-saving features of his drive-in.

Mr. BLOOMER: The admission price is $9 for an adult, and for each adult admission, you can bring in two kids, age 12 and under, for free.

(Soundbite of film)

Unidentified Announcer #4: Hot popcorn, just popped. All kinds of candy. The creamiest ice cream. Steaming hot coffee. Your favorite cigarettes.

SIEGEL: The expanded Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, Illinois, will have everything you expect, but one 21st-century dimension will be missing: 3-D. That's not feasible, says Bloomer.

NORRIS: Nonetheless, the theater is more popular than ever. Over the weekend, showings of "Toy Story 3" sold out. And I don't know about you, Robert, but I'd love some of that hot popcorn.

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