- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

WALNUTPORT, Pa. More than two hours before the movie began, families lined their truck beds with blankets and set out lawn chairs for an evening of tailgating, tossing footballs and visits to the playground.
The line for popcorn, soda and chili dogs at the concession stand was almost as long as the string of cars snaking out onto the highway, waiting to find a space at Becky's Drive-In.
By 9:30 p.m. on a recent Friday night, Cindy Deppe and her brother, Darrell Beck whose family has kept Becky's open since 1946 were turning cars away.
Not a bad night in a business many feared was dying just a decade ago.
Gone are the old car-side speakers, although one hangs for sale for $20 above the candy rack. Like people at most drive-in theaters today, Becky's moviegoers tune into the movie on FM radio or pop open the backs of their sport utility vehicles and listen to the movie over their sound systems while they sit on the lawn.
The blend of nostalgia with modern movie technology draws patrons from New York, New Jersey, and all over eastern Pennsylvania to the Northampton County theater, roughly 70 miles north of Philadelphia.
Those who make the trip say the drive-in is worth the drive.
"It's the only drive-in near where we live," said Adrienne Pollner, 15, whose family drove an hour from Phillipsburg, N.J. "It's a great way to get away with friends and family," she said, looking up from a card game with her twin sister, Susan, in the back of an SUV.
"It's a tradition to come to the drive-in," said their mother, Joni Pollner. "When they were little, we put them in their pajamas and by the time the second movie came on, they were asleep. My parents did that when we were kids. They'll remember this when they're grown up."
Becky's is one of approximately 430 drive-ins operating in the United States, said Randy Loy, executive director of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.
Although, nowhere near its heyday of more than 4,000 drive-ins in 1958, Mr. Loy said the 13 theaters that have opened nationwide since 1990 signal a business that is regaining some momentum.
Since the three-screen Vintage Drive-In opened in 1997 in East Avon, N.Y., about 20 miles south of Rochester, owner Paul Dean said his business doubles every year and that each 200-car screen sells out on Saturday nights.
The Stardust Drive-In opening in April in Watertown, Tenn., will save moviegoers a 30-mile trip to the multiscreen indoor theaters in Nashville. Bumpers Drive-In, scheduled to open two screens in the fall in Eldersburg, Md., 15 miles west of Baltimore, will usher drive-in theaters into a new age with digital movie projection.
Many drive-ins disappeared from major cites owing to rising land values and development, but in smaller towns they hung on by also running flea markets, mini-golf, restaurants and hay rides and cornfield mazes in the fall.
"We recommend to our members if they can use their drive-in for another use as well, to do so," Mr. Loy said. "Unless they really do a great business during the season, a lot of times they need something. There are all kinds of expenses that go year-round, and those kinds of things generate money year-round."
Getting more family-friendly movies on their opening weekends including this summer's blockbusters "Spider-Man," "The Sum of All Fears" and "Scooby-Doo" has helped lure people back.
But the movie showing often has little to do with the drive-in's attraction.
Waiting in the waning light for the "Mr. Deeds" and "Scooby-Doo" double feature to start, Becky's patrons said that catching two new releases for $6 was a bargain, but that they really came for the outdoor experience.
Parents watched their children lolling in the grass. A pony took riders on a slow walk from the screen to the highway and back. In the privacy of their cars, some moviegoers enjoyed things usually forbidden at the multiplex smoking cigarettes and talking on cell phones.
And once they come for one movie, they keep coming back, like Sharon Bonse of Palmerton, Pa.
"We've been here three weekends in a row already," she said.

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