This article is sponsored by Delsea Drive-In Theatre.
The latest update for this article is written by Lindsay Podolak.
In this era of non-stop technology and social media, a little nostalgia goes a long way. Could anything be more retro and relaxing than a family or date night at the local drive-in theater? Imagine you and yours cuddled up watching a movie under the stars, listening to it courtesy of your FM transistor radio.
It’s a dying (but not dead) art, keeping a drive-in theater afloat these days.
The very first one opened in 1933, when a fellow named Richard Hollingshead set up screen right here in New Jersey (Camden, to be exact). People paid 25 cents per car, as well as per person, to see the British comedy Wives Beware.
In the late 1950s, the number of drive-ins peaked at over 4,000. Over time, rising land costs shrunk the industry and today, there are less than 400 drive-in theaters remaining in the country.
New Jersey’s Last Drive-In Theater
Vineland’s Delsea Drive-In Theatre is the last one standing in New Jersey. Built in 1949, closed in 1987 and then reopened in 2004; the husband-and-wife team of Dr. John and Mrs. Jude DeLeonardis bought it after relocating to Cumberland County with their young triplets.
“Our children were the motivation for buying a business. At that time, there were not a lot of affordable options here for family activities,” explains Mrs. DeLeonardis.
Initially, the couple sought out space to build an indoor skate park and even had an architect draw up plans. But when they laid eyes on the serene expanse of land that housed the drive-in theater, they quickly switched gears.
Restoring the theater–and running it–has been an ongoing struggle for this tiny, family-owned business. The owners both have full-time day jobs, and while plaudits are nice (in a 2013 USA Today article, drive-in historian Don Sanders listed it as one of the Top 10 Drive-ins in the Country), they don’t help pay the bills.
“We’ve invested everything we have in this business,” says Mrs. DeLeonardis. “Our lives, our finances, everything we have is tied up in keeping this place running.” Seems courting nostalgia–while keeping up with modern technology–exacts a heavy price.
In 2008, the couple replaced their 35mm projector with digital. They added a second screen, to allow for two movies to show at once. But Hollywood studios receive a healthy chunk of every ticket sold and hold final say over which movies can play simultaneously.
Dinner, Snacks and a Show
To keep the place running, the DeLeonardis family zoomed in another revenue stream: concessions. Their concession menu is extensive, to say the least. You’ll find the usual guilty pleasures to munch on while watching a movie–candy, popcorn and soft drinks. But that’s just the start.
Menu-surfing movie-goers can choose from a long list of dinner options including pizza, corn dogs, teriyaki chicken, pierogies, chicken parmesan and burgers, plus sides such as edamame, chili fries and spring rolls.
There is a lengthy selection of gluten-free, low-carb and vegetarian options, plus delicious desserts ranging from ice cream to healthy(ish) smoothies and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Even more convenient is the ability to order your food from your phone–just click here to place your order and head over to the concessions stand when you’re notified that it’s ready.
Kids love the novelty items that are also for sale. Glow bracelets, flash spin balls, yo-yo lights and more will keep them entertained even if the movie does not!
In addition, they play many Sunday movies with open captioning for the hearing-impaired, making it ideal for all audiences. Meanwhile, if you have a large crowd that you’re looking to entertain, you can rent out the entire facility on non-operating days and evenings!
Kicking Off the Season at Delsea Drive-In
The 2019 season kicked off on March 22. The Delsea Drive-In Theatre is open Fridays and Saturdays in the spring and fall; however they are open Thursday through Sunday from May 17 through Labor Day (September 2).
The theatre announces upcoming film showings weekly. Otherwise, patrons can receive automatic weekly schedule updates by joining their email list. Simply click on the “Join our email list” tab at the bottom of their Home Page.
Highlights during the summer include Triple Features on holiday weekends. In addition, the Drive-In’s owners now allow pets on select days (see their website for details).
One event you do not want to miss is the venue’s annual Classic Car Show. This year, the show takes place on Saturday, August 3. (The rain date is Sunday, August 4.) The theatre will create an Event Page for registration in early June. Moreover, a classic car-related movie will play prior to the day’s double feature. Patrons get to vote for their favorite cars from different categories, with prizes given to winning cars throughout the event.
Hero (Top) Feature Image © Delsea Drive-In / Facebook
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Delsea Drive-In / Facebook