FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Americans love going to the movies, and to some, the best way to watch their favorite stars on the silver screen is under the stars at a drive-in theater.
Drive-in theaters are a movie niche that fit among the nostalgic ranks with Elvis and hula hoops. According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, outdoor theaters peaked in 1958 when there were 4,063 drive-ins around the country. By 2011, the official count had shrunk to 366. In 2012, two of Colorado's eight drive-ins did not open for business.
Outdoor theaters used to sit far from the bright lights of cities, but as suburbanization crept farther from central populations, property values surrounding the theaters rose. Jim Goble, board member of the UDITOA said that drive-ins began to fall off the map, burdened by higher property taxes or lured with lucrative selling prices.
"Real estate values rendered land so valuable that it was inevitable," said Goble, who also owns the Starlite Drive-in in Wichita, Kan. "However, the thinning out has slowed to the point that the ones that are left are here to stay."
Fortunately for those in Northern Colorado, the experience of watching a movie under the sky still can be found in Fort Collins. However, the Holiday Twin Drive-in sits on what is now very valuable land, surrounded by neighborhoods on three sides and Hughes Stadium on the fourth. Nonetheless, owners Wes and Stephanie Webb continue to promise moviegoers that the Holiday Twin is here to stay.
If the cars lining up on Overland Trail outside the theater are any indication, the Webbs have no shortage of business. The Holiday Twin has nearly 12,000 followers on Facebook, where Stephanie has worked to promote anything from their new custom-blended cotton candy (received 86 likes) or the new Pixar flick Madagascar 3.
"Social media has shown that this community wants this drive-in," said Stephanie Webb. The drive-in opened earlier than usual this year after a flood of early-season requests by Facebook fans.
Running the Holiday Twin is not without challenges, though. Pressures of property value aside, Wes Webb fears what more development could do to his customers' experience. More development means more lights, and more lights mean the old projectors have more competition on the screen. Wes also worries that increased summer activity at Hughes Stadium could hurt attendance. "If they start using those lights in the summer, I would have to close," said Webb.
With potential development looming, the Holiday Twin will be taking a large risk as they convert their 50-year-old film projectors to digital, an investment that would cost nearly $200,000.
But for now, attendance has been good, and the Webbs anticipate a big summer at the Holiday Twin. "We're just right into the season now," said Wes. "I'm just looking forward to the big pictures that are coming. I enjoy it!"