Oct. 20: Vintage Drive In Theatre, Avon NY

It’s Day 293 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took about 80 minutes to drive the 60 miles from Delevan Twin Drive In in Delevan NY (of course) to the Vintage Drive In Theatre, just east of Avon NY.

In the Summer 2002 issue of Life in the Finger Lakes magazine, it said, “In the 1960s, a harness racing track …, the East Avon Downs, was located just north of Route 5 and 20. In the 1970s it was converted into a successful flea market.” (Historic Aerials shows farmland on that site in 1951, and a simple oval with no grandstand in 1971, so I’ll take that with a grain of salt. Maybe it was a practice oval for the 180-year-old Avon Springs Downs three miles west. But I digress.) Paul Dean bought the site in the early 1990s, and in 1997 he did the reverse of so many places – he added a drive-in to an existing flea market.

The Vintage opened in June 1997, the work of Dean and David Philips. In an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Philips dismissed the idea that building the drive-in was an unlikely gamble. “Everywhere else drive-ins are opening, not closing, and I had the property so I took the opportunity,” he said. On Opening Day, it had one screen up and a second under construction.

The Baltimore Sun wrote the next year that the Vintage had been the first new drive-in built in the northeast in at least 10 years. Business was so strong that Dean planned to build a third screen for Year 3. “This is the future,” he said. “I’ve had business advisors say, ‘You’re crazy. It takes up too much property.’ But it’s a classic case of what is old is new again. People want cheap, wholesome, outdoor family entertainment. I’m going to make money with this.”

I guess he was right. A decade later in 2008, Dean told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that “his original investment in equipment was in the mid-six-figure range, and that his investment has been a good one.” And during the 2009-2010 offseason, the fourth screen went up.

The Vintage uses flat parking lots, smaller screens set fairly close to the ground, and FM radio sound. The layout is probably unique, with three screens in a row along the south (from east to west: a projector, a double-sided screen, a two-way projector, and the most recently built screen) and one screen and projector along a parallel path to the north. The concession stand has a 50s diner theme, a row of arcade games, and a mini-golf course right behind it.

On this night, the Vintage continued its yearly Fright Village promotion where half of its grounds are transformed into a haunted housing block. The scary public domain movie Night of the Living Dead is included with admission to the village, and that sounded like a better show than the new stuff on the other two screens. On a reasonably warm night for late October, it was a real treat.

Miles Today / Total: 60 / 33445 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Night of the Living Dead / 181

Nearby Restaurant: It’s almost too small (nine locations) to be a regional chain, which is surprising considering the burger quality at Tom Wahl’s, home of the Wahlburger. I love a good malted milkshake, and it’s rare to find one as good as they make it here. The signature burger comes with Swiss cheese, another of my favorite combinations. It was just what I wanted, at fast food prices.

Where I Virtually Stayed: If you’re going to stay in Avon, you’re going to want to stay at the Cedarwood Travel Lodge, another one of those little motels that happens to be nice. My comfortable, wood-paneled room had a mini-fridge, which is always nice. And best of all, I didn’t have to drive far away after a scary night at the drive-in.

Only in Avon: Less than a half mile south of the Vintage, where Rochester Road intersects Routes 5 and 20, there’s a statue of a white horse. According to the blog Stagecoach Days, that’s all that’s left of the White Horse Tavern, “one of the most noted of the hostelries of the stagecoach era that survived well into the 20th century”. It was built in 1812 and “was an important early stagecoach stop”. In 1930, its owner added this statue. After the tavern burned down in 1955, the statue was left to mark its location.

Next stop: Transit Drive In, Lockport NY.

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