Closing credits for drive-in theater?

By: Mike McCarthy Email
By: Mike McCarthy Email

HARRIMAN, Tenn. (WVLT) -- An East Tennessee drive-in movie theater worries it could see it's own closing credits. Roane County's Midtown drive-in says crowds just aren't lining up like in past years.

Now, the theater's up for sale. Managers say it's hard to say exactly why the audiences have dwindled.

But Manager Charli Michaels say it's likely a combination of the economy, the weather, and the perception of Roane County since the TVA ash spill.

The theater has entertained movie fans from through 1950s to the 1970s. It reopened in mid 1990s.

Now staff worry about its future.

James Basler's been coming to the piece of movie history since he was four years old. Now he's bringing his own kids.

"When they reopened we thought it was a great way to spend a Friday night and Saturday night. Bring the kids down here, sit, be with friends," Basler said.

"There may be other drivers, but there's none like the Midtown drive," Manager Charli Michaels said.

Theater staff worry soon there may not be. Crews put up a for sale sign Friday.

"We need to have the attendance to qualify for the movies with the movie companies," Michaels said.

Michaels says the first-run theater typically packs about 500 movie-goers its aisles a night by Memorial day.

"And with a movie like Terminator, we should be close to a sold out crowd," Michaels said.

Not quite on Friday.

Michaels says the crowds been as slim as about 100 people one night two weeks ago.

Michaels says the economy and weather could be factors. But she says the TVA ash spill could be playing role too.

"Roane County's perception itself with that's happened with TVA shed a bad light on Roane County and maybe the family's aren't bothering to stop and go camping," Michaels said.

It's not just the theater that's ask risk. Michaels runs her own cafe from the concession stand during the day six days a week.

Michaels is hopeful crowds will increase now that school has ended.

Basler says he''ll start coming more often; so, the big screen he loves keeps lighting up the night.

The theater's season runs through Labor Day.

Michaels emphasizes the theater's affordability. An adult ticket cost $6 and a child ticket is $3 for a double feature.

Michaels hopes a new owner will take over and keep the films running through the projector.

She says the theater could combine old and new movies, or add other attractions to possibly draw more crowds.

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