The Sunset was opened as a single-screen drive-in in August 1950 by Alex and Mary Stornelli. The book Royalton, Middleport, and Hartland said that the Sunset “was an immediate hit.” In the 1950s and 1960s, drive-in guests were greeted by Alex’s pet monkey “Chi Chi,” the Sunset fire truck provided guest with rides, and it even hosted go-cart racing.
In 1994, the drive-in was passed down to the founders’ son and daughter-in-law, Mario and Denise Stornelli. The next year, the new owners added two more screens, according to NewYorkDriveIns.com. Mario and Denise have operated the Sunset ever since. In 2007, their son Kris opened an ice cream shop in front.
The Rayva Roundtable just ran a great two-part interview with the Sornellis. Part Two appeared just this past Thursday.) Business was down about a quarter this summer, mainly due to weak movies, and Denise said, “The business has been here 67 years, the same family. Second generation. But it’s a business that depends on variables we have no control over. You’re against weather, and you’re against product. The thing you have to remember is, it’s not new. You have good years, you have bad years. And you just take what comes.”
That interview includes a lot of insights into the Sornelli’s expanded restaurant, the conversion to digital projection, and memories of how the Sunset didn’t resort to adult movies in the 1970s. Add in several photos, and you really should go read it.
I just missed the Sunset’s final weekend of the season last weekend. It’s getting harder to schedule my trips to catch the last active drive-in nights of the season. I may have to try a different approach; this is a virtual odyssey after all.
Miles Today / Total: 18 / 33523 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 182
Nearby Restaurant: Since the drive was short, it was easy to get here for Sunday brunch at The Basket Factory. They had all I could eat of scrambled eggs, bacon, chicken & biscuits, pasta, fruit, pastries, quiche, pancakes, waffles, and coffee, all with the Erie Canal in their back yard.
Where I Virtually Stayed: The closest hotels to the Sunset are five miles east in Medina, and the oldest of them is the Hart House Hotel, which first opened in 1876. My classically small room had a mini-fridge, and wifi. There was coffee available, and a breakfast voucher for the Shirt Factory Cafe downstairs.
Only in Middleport: Just east of Medina is Culvert Road, which includes the only tunnel that goes under the Erie Canal. It’s only one lane, and the clearance is just 7½ feet, but there it is, under the historic waterway.
Next stop: Sunset Drive In, Waterford PA.