MOUNT ZION - A Calhoun County drive-in theater might close this year because of a switch to digital projection.
But an Internet vote sponsored by Honda might just save the Mt. Zion Drive-in Theater and Restaurant from shutting down.
The demise of 35mm film distribution at the end of this year in favor of digital projection is worrying drive-in theater owners across the country. All 350 of them.
Photo by Mark Romano
Mt. Zion Drive-in Theater and Restaurant in Calhoun County is hoping people will vote online and text so it can win a new digital projector from Honda.
Bonnie Sands, manager at Mt. Zion Drive-in Theater, is concerned about the impending projection switch.
"It will force us to close," Sands said.
Sands has been told it will cost $85,000 to convert to digital projection - a price the business cannot afford.
Sands' parents, Marshall and Virginia Bever of Mount Zion, have owned the drive-in theater since 1979. Calhoun County's only theater has been around since 1950.
Besides Sands, who works for the Calhoun County School System, other family members employed at Mt. Zion Drive-in are Sands' sister Agnes Bever and nieces Mary and Katey Bever.
Sands said three or four other people are employed at the drive-in business, which includes a restaurant and games room.
Mt. Zion Drive-in has had its ups and downs in business over the years, Sands said.
"We struggled for a while in the late 1990s," she said. Last year was horrible, money-wise, for the theater for some reason, Sands said.
On the eve of its possible closure, Mt. Zion Drive-in has seen a resurgence in popularity, Sands said. She is not sure if the quality of movies, the impending closure or the price of outdoor movie tickets being cheaper than indoor movie tickets is the main reason for the increase in business.
A total of 212 vehicles can park in rows at Mt. Zion Drive-in, along with a back lot area for additional movie-goers on the three acres. Some people bring tents and pop-up campers for a night of movie watching.
In this rural county, the drive-in provides one of the few venues for entertainment, along with outdoor recreational activities, fairs and festivals and sports.
It is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The drive-in, along West Virginia 16, used to be open seven days a week.
"We show mostly family movies. We try to show newer movies," Sands said.
Sands said she polices the drive-in during the movies and no alcohol is permitted on the grounds.
Sands has "high hopes" the Calhoun County drive-in will be one of five drive-ins across the country to receive a new digital projector from Honda, based on Internet and texting votes through Sept. 9.
Project Drive-In is described as a national effort to save as many drive-ins as possible. People can vote at www.projectdrivein.com for their favorite drive-in.
"We need everyone to vote and show support for our drive-in; otherwise our screen will go dark," Sands said.
Movie studios are phasing out 35 mm film prints, and the switch to an eventually all-digital distribution system is pushing the outdoor theaters to make the expensive change to digital projectors.