There were once more than one hundred drive-ins within a one hundred mile radius of uptown Charlotte. Yes, there’s a group that keeps track of such things called Drive-ins.com. Today, there are only 6 in all of North Carolina.
Back in 1949, Gay and Mozelle Stinnett built a drive-in on land behind the family’s home between Bessemer City and Kings Mountain. Their son Rick grew up with it in his backyard. He now runs the theater.
“There was always something going on, we were open every night until the 1970's," he recalls, "we always had friends and family over.”
Nowadays, the drive in is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Starting an hour or so before dusk, the green slope fills with another generation of moviegoers. The atmosphere is like being at a picnic. As SUV’s, minivans, and trucks slowly fill in, kids emerge and excitedly play games while parents set up blankets and chairs.
Todd Kuhn and his family came over from East Gastonia for their first drive-in movie.
“Aw, it’s a blast," he says, "a bunch of families around, just having a good time.”
Fourth Grader Jeffrey Oaks says his grandparents bring him and his cousins a couple times every summer. He prefers it to an indoor movie theater because he gets to move around.
He says, "All I ever do is play and fall asleep. When I first came out here, I was watching 'Avengers,' and I fell asleep in the middle of it.”
Most nights, you can find Rick Stinnett in the projector room. It’s in a low-slung cinderblock building in the middle of the sloped hill that also houses a snack bar. Because drive-ins usually have larger screens than indoor cinemas, they require bigger, brighter projectors. The Bessemer City Kings Mountain Drive-In has its original projector from more than 60 years ago. But its days are numbered. Movie studios plan to stop distributing their films in the 35-mm prints that drive-ins need for their old-school projectors. Stinnett, like many drive-in owners across the country is facing the costly upgrade to a digital projector. He says he's been quoted nearly $100,000 to upgrade his theater.
"That's a very high reach," Stinnett says.
So, enter Honda. The car company is running an online competition this month to give five digital projectors to drive-ins. Stinnett is running an aggressive campaign. He’s putting up posters, handing out business cards, and posting about it on facebook.
He says regardless of what happens, he plans to stay open. But if he has to pay for the new projector, the $10 a car charge that his customers pay could go up.
But the Kuhn family, who just discovered the Bessemer City Kings Mountain Drive-In, hopes drive-ins like it will be around for many more generations.
For more information about Honda's Project Drive-In, visit www.projectdrivein.com.
"There And Back" airs Saturday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on WFAE's "Weekend Edition."