Before there was cable TV and the internet (my own kids can’t imagine such a primitive time) families went out together to enjoy a movie in a car, packed full of kids. Sometimes the neighbor’s kids were mixed in the bunch too. I remember being about 8 years old, and walking to the drive-in movie concession stand with my dad, and the feeling I had when we all got to have our own brown paper lunch bags filled with buttered popcorn. We lived on a small income, and this was one of the few times when we didn’t have to share the one treat that might have been quickly bought on another type of outing. The small bag of popcorn was all mine! It was like we were on a vacation, and then my parents would even let us have candy after 8pm at night too. I remember seeing people of all ages enjoying the movies that we’d watch together as a family, under the stars.
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Kids today don’t like the things we liked back when we were kids right? I’m a parent that has these worried thoughts that many other parents have, and while I have really good kids… kids get bored easily. Would they be excited about sitting on a blanket or lawn chair outside watching the movie? Will my autistic middle child be able to sit through this movie with so many distractions and stimulation going on around him?
We packed the back of our suv with pillows & blankets, some lawn chairs, lots of hopefulness, and loaded ourselves inside and headed to the drive-in-movies for the first time with my children. We found the perfect spot, center of the field, not too close to the screen and not too far of a walk to the snack bar. We opened the back door, put some lawn chairs by our tail end, and set up the blankets and pillows too. It was now time to “officially” prepare for the movie. That means lots of snacks! We walked to the concession building before the movie started. There we rented a little portable radio that some drive-ins offer as an option to run your car radio on the vehicle’s battery, and it also can allow for the movie to be heard better outside of our vehicle while sitting in our lawn chairs.
Next, we needed food and drinks. The menu options now offered in many snack bars at drive-in movie theaters, compare more to pub fare and the food is good. This is a huge life saver as a parent. I didn’t have to rush making dinner and feeding it to the kids before we left the house. We each ordered a main menu item, drinks, and of course you can’t not order freshly popped popcorn and candy to have during the movie. After our picnic style meal, we cleaned up a bit, and then sat back, ready to watch the movie. I will never forget how I immediately felt sharing this cherished childhood memory with my own kids, and watching them experience seeing the largest outdoor movie screen they’d ever seen for the very first time… together as a family, under the stars.
Drive-in movie theaters are almost always owned by a local family living in the very community their theater is in. They don’t make much money off of your movie ticket. The families sell snacks and other foods, and that’s what helps keep these classic old school drive-in movie theaters open and alive for all of us to enjoy still. Some have been here for over 70 years. The concession stands create jobs, and employee people all throughout the duration they are open. Jericho Drive-in for example currently employs over 45 people. Please be sure to visit and support the snack bars when you go to the drive-in movie theater. I know these local family owned businesses will greatly appreciate you for this.
Below are a list of 5 drive-in movie theaters including my two top picks. All mentioned are worth taking a little drive to while visiting each of the counties they are in.
HOLLYWOOD DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATER
Averill Park, New York
Open since 1952. Owned and operated by the Fisher family.
“In 1968 Frank took over the business from his father and still enjoys running it to this day .He has learned everything from the projectors to the concessions when he was just a teenager working with his father and through trial and error and have improved the theater tremendously from those early days.” their website stated. “The Hollywood Drive-In (TM) has been in business for 70 years and over the years has seen many changes. We have always maintained that having fun is what a drive-in is all about. We offer a neat and clean facility with a freshly mowed parking area. At the Hollywood Drive-In (TM) you will find a well trained staff ready to serve you with a relaxed atmosphere for you and your family to enjoy.“
They have also recently remodeled their concession building and have an expanded their menu to suit everyone’s palette. They offer fresh homemade pizza, which you can order by the slice or the whole pie. You can get cooked to order hamburgers, hot dogs and fries… and of course the old time favorite popcorn.
Their website mentions that the popcorn boxes are randomly stuffed with free passes into the drive-in.
Food Permit: We understand that people have food allergies or people prefer to bring food from home or elsewhere. However, outside food seriously hurts our ability to sustain our business. Admissions mostly belong to the studios. We have instituted a $5 food permit for those bringing in food. Deliveries to the theatre are strictly prohibited.
ADMISSIONS: Adults $11 | Children 3-10 yrs old $6
JERICHO DRIVE-IN & ICE CREAM SHOPPE Glenmont, New York
Open since 1957. Owned and operated by the Chenette family.
I was able to reach and speak with Lisa Chenette by phone, one of the owners of The Jericho Drive-in & Twist Ice Cream Shoppe. She shared with me their family’s story. Jericho Drive-in was purchased in 1995 by Mike Chennette, and has since had a stand alone ice cream shoppe built in 2007 that services both their drive-in movie guests and the general public. This well thought out stand has service windows on both sides of the building, that sits partly inside of the fence surrounding the drive-in, and accessible to non moviegoers who only want to enjoy a cold treat from the ice cream stand. Like their Sweetheart Sundae that tells the sweet story of how Mike’s mother always called his father, Sweetheart. This special sundae was added to their menu in memory of Mike’s father after he passed away, and is only offered around Valentine’s Day, when the ice cream shoppe officially reopens for the season.
Their concession stand was just remodeled and their menu includes Philly cheesesteaks on a toasted bun, and Chinese Egg Rolls made by the local Chinese in Restaurant in their town to support another local small business.
ADMISSION: Adults $11 | Children 11 and under $6
Here are three more family owned and operated Drive-in movie theaters that I recommended visiting in these different counties here in Upstate New York.
HI-WAY DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATER
Coxsackie, New York
Located between Catskill and Coxsackie NY, Hi-Way Drive-In movie theater is referred to as the ‘Cinema Under The Stars.’ The Gate and the Snack Bar open 90 Minutes Before the 1st Movie starts.
ADMISSION : $11 for ages 12 and up, and $6 for ages 3 – 11
(children under 3 years of age are admitted free)
MALTA DRIVE IN THEATER
Malta, New York
Open since 1949!
This is the Drive-in movie theater that created my own family’s very first drive-in movie memories. I can still remember when my 12yr old son asked for the first time if he could walk his little brother to the concession stand, by himself, and how as a child he felt like this was a move towards growing up. I watched them walk towards the snack bar, holding hands, and walk into the building. I watched and waited for my two boys to walk out of the snack bar and proudly bring back food and drinks for their other brother and their mom. I must say, I love the burgers here. Make sure you grab one from their snack bar when you visit them.
This two screen drive-in theater is family owned and operated by Ed & Tom Caro. “Many of our staff have been working here for years“, Ed shared. Ed & Tom Caro are both very active in the drive-in theater and both of their children have worked at the drive-in in the past too. Ed & Tom have worked towards not only making their drive-in theater a place where families can come to and make memories… they have also encouraged their staff to be a part of their drive-in family too. In fact, Ed shared that “We have a father & daughter, a mother & son, two sisters, and three cousins that all work for us“. This small locally owned family business, welcomes locals and visitors from outside of Saratoga County to come and feel like part of the Caro family too.
The Caro family added the second movie screen in 2008, and with the new addition they also updated & expanded their restroom area as well.
Outside Food, Beverage, and / or Cooler Permit: $5.00 per car, per night
Movie sound is broadcast in stereo over FM radio and can be heard via your car radio or a portable radio that you bring. Additionally, boom boxes can be rented for $5 in the concession stand (limited availability) and we require surrender of your driver’s licence until return of the radio. They do not have any speakers on the posts.
ADMISSION: Adults (Age 12 & Older): $11.00 | Children (Under 12): $6.00
GLEN DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATER
Queensbury, New York
Open since 1958! Glen is open 7 nights a week during the season starting at 7:00 PM. Shows start at dusk.
ADMISSION: Tickets Adults $11.00 / Children $6.00 | CASH ONLY
Nellie Ackerman-Vellano is a freelance brand development professional, writer and photographer who writes for a variety of periodicals including 518 Profiles Magazine. | IG: @FeedMe518 | @BonVivantPhotographe