Drive-ins still surviving despite competition

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It’s a fun fact that might be hard to believe, but our region has the highest concentration of drive-in theaters of anywhere else in the country.

Pennsylvania has the most theaters, followed closely by Ohio and New York.

“Around here the drive-in was a great thing for an average American,” said Bob Hreno, owner of the Elm Road Triple Drive-In Theatre in Warren.

On one of the last days of summer, people and their cars streamed into the theater, ready for a movie or two. The theater can hold about 900 cars and has been family-owned since it opened in 1950, much like many of the drive-ins in the region.

“We’ve noticed that a lot of the ones in Ohio and Pa. are family-run. And it kind of takes that. It’s a family team,” Hreno said.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s when drive-ins were popular, there was not much else to do for the average middle-class family, according to Elm Road Triple Drive-In Theatre manager Sheri Hocevar.

“There’s fierce competition nowadays for the entertainment dollar. The good ole days, the 1940s and 50s, there wasn’t a lot of competition in the summer for entertainment,” Hocevar said.

At one point, there were eight drive-in theaters between Youngstown and Warren. All that is left is Elm Road and Skyway Twin Drive-In, also in Warren. Also not too far away is the Midway Twin Drive-In Theatre in Ravenna.

In June, one of the screens at the Skyway was knocked down in a storm and the theater’s main screen was damaged. It has since been repaired and according to the theater’s website, screen 2 has been rebuilt from the ground up and is now larger and higher off the ground to eliminate any sight line problems.

The owners of the Elm Road Triple Drive-In Theatre said they plan to keep growing and expanding their operation. This year, they spent $250,000 on digital upgrades that were required to keep the drive-in open. They’re also relying on concession stand sales to make more money for the theater.

“No drive-in can survive on just the revenue from ticket sales alone because the vast majority of the revenue goes to the film companies,” Hocevar said.

Since it’s a part-time business, maintaining a drive-in movie theater is not easy, but it’s a tradition the family plans to continue after 63 years in business.

“In those 63 years, it’s just evolved with so much improvement and all this stuff we would have never dreamed that it would ever come to this,” Hreno said.

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