July 14: Danny Boy’s Drive In Movie Theater, Ionia MI

It’s Day 195 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took less than an hour and a half to drive from Flint MI to the Danny Boy’s Drive In Movie Theater just south of Ionia MI.

Dan Lower and his wife, Gail, decided to invest in a drive-in near the site of a closed drive-in in his home town on the advice of their son who did an internet search that showed 90,000 Michigan residents search for “drive-in movie” every month. The result, which opened in 2013, is a modern single-screen theater.

Lower told the Ionia Sentinel-Standard that his vision for the drive-in is “Chuck E. Cheese meets the movies.” Sure enough, there’s a dancing, big-headed Danny Boy mascot that leads kids in getting their wiggles out before night falls and the show begins.

“If you are going (specifically) for the movie, don’t go to a drive-in,” he advised. “It’s really for kids, and a whole other demographic comes to the drive in.”

From the earliest days of Carload, a recurring question I’d get was, “What do I need to build a drive-in?” My short answer was that you mainly need a local champion, someone politically connected to guide the project through whatever level of NIMBY opposition any drive-in project is bound to face. Dan Lower has a much better, and longer, answer on his blog How To Build A Drive-In Movie Theater. His first focus was finding a location that’s economically viable. “I have a ‘1 McDonald’s rule’,” he writes. “If there is only 1 McDonald’s in your town / county / area….there is probably only room for 1 Drive In Theater in the area.” If you’re interested in starting your own, or just to read between the lines about the birth of Danny Boy’s, you should really go read the whole thing.

Once again (from my perspective), Despicable Me 3 was the early show. I might have dozed off, because I knew I needed to get up early the next morning. I read just this week that a drive-in which only opened two nights last year was going to have another show, and I was in range if I was willing to make a longer drive than I’d planned.

Miles Today / Total:  84 / 24567 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Despicable Me 3 / 111

Nearby Restaurant: I like good eats, and I like cheap eats, and it’s great when those two come together. At the Lamplight Grill for dinner after hanging around with carnival food at the fair all day (see below), what I really needed was just the soup and salad bar. All in a setting that has the warm, comforting look of the inside of the Cheers bar. Stomach settled, I was ready for Danny Boy’s.

Where I Virtually Stayed: With a small town such as Ionia, I’m grateful to find a Super 8. This one is adjacent to a truck stop, so I always knew where I could get sundries or a late-night snack. My room had the full set of amenities, the free wifi was solid, and I could grab some truck stop biscuits and gravy to supplement the usual Super 8 continental breakfast.

Only in Ionia: For over a century, every mid to late July, Ionia hosts what Wikipedia says could be the world’s largest free-admission fair. This year, the Ionia Free Fair started on July 13, a day before I arrived. Lucky me! I made it in time for the Governor’s Luncheon, then the poultry and waterfowl show. And all the midway rides made me glad for a quiet evening at the drive-in.

Next stop: Manistique Drive-In, Manistique MI.