Shortly after World War II, as more Americans bought cars and moved to the suburbs, the number of drive-in theaters in the U.S. exploded from less than 200 to more than 4,000 by the early 1950s. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, they were a major source of entertainment for suburban families. (Those of us who grew up in the inner city knew of them as some sort of exotic rumor as we took in movies at the four neighborhood theaters within walking distance or caught a train downtown to one of the half dozen spectacular movie palaces there).
As sprawl increased and the land became more valuable, and competition increased from cable TV offerings, drive-ins began to disappear rapidly in the ’70s and ’80s. Older Clevelanders may remember drive-ins across from the former North Randall Mall site, near East 260th and Euclid, and on route 2 just west of Geneva, all of which were torn down in the ’90s and ’00s. Today there are around 300.
But several of those are still functioning in Northeast Ohio, offering a taste of 50s nostalgia, and a way to enjoy movies in an outdoor setting. They continue to screen movies during the pandemic due to their unique set-up, with each group of patrons isolated in their own car. The Mayfield Road Drive-In operates on Rte 322 in Chardon, with its sister operation the Midway Drive-In on route 59 a half mile east of Kent. And the Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive-In in North Ridgeville is still going strong.
Not only are they uniquely positioned to safely operate in the current climate, but they are also taking additional precautions. Both Mayfield and Midway will be parking cars with six feet clearance between cars. Both have changed procedures at their concession stands for safer ordering, with separate ordering and pickup windows. Both will let you bring your on food for an additional fee.
“This will cut our admissions to half of the size of our field,” they say. “We expect to sell out the theatre nightly, we encourage you to purchase tickets on line to assure a parking spot. Reserve-A-Spot is available. We have a lot of high school graduation events coming up. Please be sure you check the movie schedule the night you are coming out.”
The Aut-O-Rama Drive-In is also spacing out cars between poles, and banning large groups for now, asking that you come only with those you live with. They are also temporarily allowing food to be brought in, while closing the inside of its concession area and serving only via a walk-up ordering window; they’re working on an online ordering app via phone. And they’re suggesting that people wear masks and social distance when outside their cars. They’ve even added Porta Toilets to cut down lines in the rest rooms. Aut-O-Rama shows a mix of kid-friendly and action/adventure movies with a ticket prices of $10 for adults, and $5 for under 12.