The show goes on at Warren outdoor theater
By GRACE WYLER
On summery weekend nights, hundreds of cars pull into the Elm Road Triple Drive-In, tune in their radios and take in the magic of the movies. The scene would be reminiscent of a bygone era if it weren’t for the high- quality special effects on screen and the DJ spinning hits for the moviegoers.
As drive-in theaters across the country struggle to survive the world of megaplexes and Netflix. the Elm Road Triple Drive-In has propelled the iconic American movie theater into the 21st century.
The drive-in, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, is one of the last of its kind in the Mahoning Valley. There are fewer than 400 drive-ins left in the U.S., according to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association.
The Elm Road Triple Drive-In has bucked the trend by modernizing its facilities to reflect the changing times, said theater manager Sheri Hocevar, daughter of owner Bob Hreno.
“We have the nostalgia of days gone by with the conveniences of the modern day,” Hocevar said. “We are always trying to keep things fresh, keep things exciting.”
The drive-in has undergone many changes since Hocevar’s grandfather opened its gates Aug. 3, 1950, she said.
“We have adapted to modern tastes,” she said. “If this place was still the same as it was in 1950, we would not have survived.”
Over the years, Hreno, the son of the original owner, has installed two additional screens, added FM stereo sound and expanded the concession business. The 4,500-square-foot concession area offers a full menu including homemade pizza. This year, Hreno added an express window that serves hand-dipped ice cream.
“We have kept reinvesting in the business,” Hreno said. “I think if we hadn’t, we might not have survived.”
Though the Elm Road Triple Drive-In has outlasted its rivals, the theater now competes with a wider array of entertainment options. But the drive-in offers a fun, low-cost family-friendly evening out of the house, Hreno said.
“If people are looking for something different to do, they can come to the drive-in,” he said.
The drive-in also benefits from its 60-year history, Hocevar said.
“The drive-in still has that special niche,” she said. “There is a nostalgic factor now that there are so few left.”
Some customers with adolescent memories of the Elm Road Drive-In have rediscovered the theater in adulthood.
Diane Timlin-McCullough, who grew up in Youngstown, remembers childhood nights at the drive-in with her parents, brothers and sisters. The youngest of eight siblings, she recalls hiding in the back seat of the car to accompany her sister on a date at the drive-in.
Four years ago, Timlin-McCullough, now 45 and a resident of Austintown, wanted to know if there were any drive-ins left in the area. She was surprised to find that the Elm Road theater was still open.
“I didn’t know that the drive-in still existed,” she said.
Timlin-McCullough and her boyfriend now have a standing Friday night date at the drive-in.
“It’s an enjoyable time to take in a movie and get out — sometimes we’ll see a movie over again,” she said. “It’s a time for us to spend together. Now Friday night is our night at the drive-in.”
The drive-in remains popular because it offers “a low-cost, family-friendly evening,” Hreno said. “If you’ve never been to the drive-in before, or haven’t been to one in years, it’s a unique experience.”
The Elm Road Triple Drive-In will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a party before the movies start Saturday. The gates will open at 6:30 p.m.