The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

September 24, 2013

Drive-in theaters threatened by digital transition

— WICKSBURG, Ala. (AP) — Megan Tamez brings her daughters, Graice, 7, and Izabella, 5, to the Continental Drive-In a couple times a month. Standing near the concession stand recently, the girls ran circles around their mother.

"On cool nights we can sit outside," Tamez said. "We can make noise and we're not interrupting anyone. They like to talk."

It's the perfect movie-viewing experience for the family, who had come to see "Planes." And at $7 for a double feature for adults and $4 for children, it's cheaper than an indoor theater.

They're the same reasons many patrons, especially families, choose drive-in theaters. For others, it's the nostalgia for a by-gone era. But a drive-in theater is not as easy to come by today as it was in the late 1950s, when drive-in theaters numbered around 4,000 in the United States. No, today, there are only about 350 drive-in theaters around the country, and that number is likely to get even smaller as drive-ins face the cost of converting to digital technology.

On a recent Saturday movie night, customers pulled their vehicles into the Continental Drive-In on U.S. 84 between Dothan and Enterprise, parked in their chosen spots in front of one of four screens and tuned their radios to the proper FM station. Some pulled out folding chairs to sit outside. Others piled blankets in truck beds. Screens flickered to life as sunset turned to darkness.

"It's just a little bit more of a personal experience," said Chase Taylor, vice president of Continental Cinemas Corp., which owns the Continental Drive-In. "We have people who drive from ridiculous distances coming here to see a movie - God bless their hearts, I'm glad they come. I've had someone come as far as Jacksonville, Fla., to come watch a movie here . Our regulars more enjoy the family part of it, the prices making it affordable for families to go to the movies."

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