Many of us spent summer nights parked at a drive-in movie theater…  But, many of those theaters have been forced to close.  

One local couple wants to keep that past time alive in the Erie area.  Dennis and Margaret Koper took over the Sunset Drive-in back in the 1980’s and they’ve kept up with the times ever since.  

In the ’80’s, Dennis and Margaret Koper added a big project to their agenda.  “[My] wife liked to go to the movies, so I bought her a movie theater!”  

When they took over the drive-in, there were thousands of outdoor theaters, but now, only around 300 still  operate in the United States. Koper understands why so many theaters close.  He says converting to digital turned out to be around a $200,000 project.

The Communication Department Chair and Film Professor at Mercyhurst University, Brian Sheridan, says a lot of factors contribute to the closings. “Cable television, you get into home video in the ’80’s and ’90’s and now of course the internet and that has proven to be a real problem.”

Film companies take large percentage from the gates, but the drops and spikes in the drive-in business have been going on for decades. The owners at the Sunset tell us the interest varies with each generation.”  

Dennis says, “They’re getting tired of being… you know, cabin fever. They’re getting tired of being in the house. So now, they’re getting outside and enjoying it.” 

Koper says keeping up with modern demands has been a challenge, but now they see a few thousand customers a weekend.

Sheridan tells us, “We see a resurgence in vinyl records which you [would] have never predicted ten years ago and I think the drive-in movies, if they position themselves correctly, can enjoy that same kind of success.” 

According to the Drive-in Theater Owner’s Association, the Tri-State Area has more operating outdoor theaters than any other region in the country.  There are 28 in both Pennsylvania and Ohio, and 29 in New York.

–Jackie Roberts