The future of the Melody Cruise-In theater in Springfield and others in the Miami Valley closed for this summer remains unknown as the owners said upgrades in movie technology halted operations.
“All options are on the table,” said Chakeres General Manager Mark Booth about the future of the drive-ins, but added no decisions have been made about whether the theaters will re-open next summer.
Along with the Melody Cruise-In, 4025 E. National Road in Springfield Twp., the Skyborn Cruise-In in Fairborn and Wilmington Drive-In outdoor movies are shuttered for the season.
>>EARLIER COVERAGE: Three local drive-in theaters won’t open this summer
A mixture of factors, including the cost of upgrading the theaters as movie companies increasingly digitize films, is what led the Springfield-based company to close all but one of its outdoor movies this year.
“Especially with drive-ins, because it’s not only the cost of the projector and sound, but also heating and cooling for the buildings,” that hold the equipment, Booth said.
The company spent more than $120,000 in the past year to digitize the Melody 49 Drive In in Brookville, Booth said, which is open this summer.
A decision on whether or not to upgrade the other drive-ins will have to be made by February in order for the equipment to be purchased and construction to be done by summer 2017, Booth said.
The Brookville outdoor theater was chosen to receive the upgrades first, Booth said, because of its location in the Dayton market that could attract more customers.
Chakeres wanted to open its other drive-in locations this summer and show movies on their old 35-mm film equipment, he said, but the number of movies distributed on the old systems is limited.
“We were faced with the reality this year that if we don’t have the product, we can’t open the door,” Booth said.
Only one new 35-mm film would likely be every five or six weeks, he said.
Small, local theaters across the country are feeling the money crunch from the need to upgrade, said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Rentrak, which studies media consumption across the country.
Movie theaters across the United States took in more than $11 billion in ticket sales in 2015, Dergarabedian said, but drive-in theaters across the country are closing, possibly in part due to the film industry’s transition to new production and distribution methods.
Some have called the Melody on U.S. 40 an icon and piece of Clark County history.
Carole Weller built her house across the street from the Melody just east of town 38 years ago. She said it’s been a summer staple to see the lights of the theater twinkle at night.
She hopes the Chakeres owners decide to re-open the theater next summer.
“It’s kind of sad in a way to see that it’s not opening,” Weller said.