An American pastime

The line usually started to form around sunset. Motorists cruised their way into the lot in orderly fashion, the sound of crunching gravel announcing their arrival.

The line usually started to form around sunset. Motorists cruised their way into the lot in orderly fashion, the sound of crunching gravel announcing their arrival.

The food back then wasn’t the greatest; many patrons brought their own. As they waited, some of their children availed themselves of the swing sets located in the front.

Some forward-thinking parents brought their kids already dressed in their pajamas, to spare themselves the torture of trying to undress a zonked-out kid when they returned home.

The heavy, metal speakers were hooked onto the driver’s door window. Some parking spots were missing them. It was said that teenagers would steal them to install in their cars, though why anyone would want such a clunky, scratchy-sounding accessory remains a mystery. They would become as extinct as dinosaurs, once drivers could tune in by way of their own radios.

As sunset receded into the darkness and the stars peeked through, there was a shivery thrill in knowing you were taking part in something that was uniquely American: being able to sit in the comfort of your own vehicle and watch a movie on a massive, outdoor screen.

“There was a shivery thrill in knowing you were taking part in something that was uniquely American: being able to sit in the comfort of your own vehicle and watch a movie on a massive, outdoor screen.”

If you’re too young to remember drive-ins, that’s too bad. At one time, Ohio had more drive-ins than any state in the United States. Stark County had seven: The Stark Drive-In at 2200 Lincoln Way E in Massillon; The Giant at 5401 Louisville St. NE; The Park and Auto theaters in Alliance; The North Canton Drive-in; The Mid-City Drive-In on Columbus Road in Harrisburg. There also was the Skyway Theater in nearby Malvern.

Some drive-ins fell prey to technology. The emergence of video cassette players in the 1980s enabled viewers to buy or rent the latest movies and watch them in the comfort of their homes. Cable TV also matured, offering more and more viewing choices. Other outlets couldn’t tread the economics, as corporate-run theater chains built indoor multiplexes and bought out or drove out competing mom-and-pop drive-ins.

For others still, it was development. As the demands for suburban housing and retail grew, the land occupied by some drive-ins simply became too valuable.

If you were born after the demise of Stark County’s drive-ins, which came in the late 1970s, it’s not too late.

Locally, The Lynn Drive-In Theater on U.S. Route 250 in Strasburg still is going strong. Originally named The Boyer, The Lynn opened in the summer of 1937, giving it the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously operating drive-ins in the nation.

If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s also The Magic City Drive-In Theater in Barberton; The Mid Way in Ravenna; and The Mayfield Road Drive-In in Chardon.

Just as do indoor theaters, drive-ins survive on concession sales, so many outlets require that you purchase a “food pass” if you’re bringing in your own snacks; and today, you’re just as likely to find a car show or flea market to complement the movies.

Like Coca-Cola and baseball, going to a drive-in movie is as American as it gets.

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass