Drive-in Movie Theaters – Almost Extinct in New Jersey
Nearly 60 drive-in movie theaters once called New Jersey home, but the times have changed since then.
For more than a decade between the early 1990s and early 2000s, not one drive-in existed in New Jersey. In 2004, the Delsea Drive-In returned to business in Vineland, and since then, it's been the only such attraction in the Garden State.
John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In, said nostalgia brings first-time customers in the door, but the ultimate goal is making sure they come back.
"You've got to have a good product," he said. "I don't want people coming just because it's the only one.
The Delsea Drive-In, built in 1949, shut its doors in 1987. DeLeonardis, who's also a doctor, was interested in opening a skate park to keep kids active, but in the process, the drive-in opportunity presented itself.
"Business is getting better, and a lot of that business is reflective of the movies that are coming out," said DeLeonardis, prepping for a Thursday night showing of the Avengers sequel.
According to DeLeonardis, drive-in theaters still have plenty of appeal; prices are typically cheaper, and there are no bad seats. The theater has its own FM station so patrons have no issues with hearing, and bad weather rarely stops a showing.
The death of drive-ins, though, is not just a New Jersey story.
More than 4,000 drive-in movie theaters existed nationwide in 1958, according to Drive-Ins.com. That number is now at 335.
"Ever since the 70s, it's been decreasing, and during the 70s and 80s it was decreasing really quickly," said the web site's Kipp Scherer. "We do lose a handful each year."
Scherer insisted drive-ins have fallen victim to the advent of home entertainment, as well as rising property values.
"That same big, open plot of land that the theatre is on is surrounding by housing…and it looks really attractive to the big box stores," Scherer said.
Also, and unlike indoor theaters, the feature presentation at a drive-in can't begin until the sun goes down.
Both screens Friday night at the Delsea Drive-In will start rolling at 8:10 p.m. All paid vehicles are guaranteed a double feature.
New Jersey started the drive-in trend in 1933 with the opening of a theater on the Camden-Pennsauken border. Camden has two free drive-in events planned for this summer at the waterfront.