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WICHITA, Kan. - They have now been around for 80 years, but although drive-in movie theaters are fewer and farther between, Wichita’s Starlite Drive-In is gearing up for future audiences who still crave the experience.
“It’s nostalgic,” moviegoer Jeff Roth said. “I love the cartoons between the movies, I love the snack bar, everything just reminds me of the 70’s and 60’s. We just don’t have stuff like this anymore.”
Part of the allure is the nostalgia. The other part?
“It’s called the Starlite for a reason,” Jim Goble, the Starlite’s owner, said. “The skies are above you and the moon and the stars, there’s an appeal to it.”
Goble has owned the Starlite for 16 of its 40 years in existence. Although it hearkens back to a different time, to this day, it still entertains moviegoers.
“It’s laid back, you get several movies for the price of one, family-oriented, and it’s being outdoors,” Wade Holle said as he was waiting to drive up to one of the screens.
The first drive-in opened in New Jersey back in June 1933. At their peak in the 1950’s, there were more than 4,000 drive-ins across the country. There are currently around 350 still open in the US, including six in Kansas, according to a database at drive-ins.com.
Over the years, drive-ins have had to adapt to the times. For the Starlite, that meant a recent upgrade to digital projection, since studios will no longer distribute movies on film.
“We basically had to convert to digital and we’ve done so very successfully,” Goble said. “It improved our picture quality dramatically, and our sound went digital too and people have commented on what a great improvement it is on both.”
With a dedicated fan base from Wichita and beyond, Goble believes they will continue to support his business for years to come.
“There are people who prefer the drive-in,” he said. “It’s sort of a different market to a large degree than indoor theaters. It’s seasonal, so it’s a special thing, and a lot of our customers go to the indoor theaters as well but they love coming here, too.”