Last year about this time, the story of Wichita KS’s Starlite Drive-In Theatre was a sad one indeed. Its recently acquired owner had shut down the Starlite and was reportedly on the verge of selling the place for warehouse development.
Remarkably, the Starlite recovered. Local leaders saw the importance of the city’s last drive-in and came up with a plan that saved it. So this week’s report by KSNW, Wichita’s News Leader, is more of a quiet celebration of the end of a successful season where the only drama was on the big screen.
The news story has some nice video of the Starlite, which is always welcome here, and it includes a few interview clips with current owner Blake Smith. He said that attendance is up a bit, and that it took him a little while to learn how to execute some of the fundamentals of running the drive-in.
Souvenir cups were a big hit this season at the Starlite, and Smith said he’s considering selling season passes for 2020. I would suggest that those cups are a no-brainer; if they’re refillable, they sit around as a constant advertisement and reminder to come back for more movies. Season passes are trickier. I hope that Smith gets good advice on those.
I also hope that this note finishes the saga of near-closure and civic redemption for the Starlite, which should settle back down as just another successful drive-in. Meanwhile, enjoy the video of how it looks today.
This is great news from KSN, Wichita’s News Leader. The Starlite Drive-In Theatre, closed and apparently sold in a questionable turn of events, was rescued at the last minute and celebrated its Grand Opening under new ownership last weekend. And I’ve got more video than I can use, so also check out the following sources.
Blake Smith, who also owns the Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa OK, told KFDI that he was excited to get started. “It got stange last year — and I didn’t even realize — and then everybody went crazy and it kinda got to me, and…it’s funny how things work out.” KFDI also posted a Facebook video of the ribbon cutting.
As KWCH reported, the Starlite already had a cold opening – really cold – on March 1. It wrote that “Smith and his staff have been working to get the south Wichita theater up and running since December.” They also have video of that frosty, happy event. Enjoy!
The latest news from KSNW, Wichita’s News Leader, about the Starlite Drive-In Theatre there is that over 200 residents rallied at a nearby park to protest its shutdown. Last month, owner Chuck Bucinski abruptly closed for the season, announced that the drive-in would not reopen, and scheduled an equipment auction for Nov. 13.
The protesters were joined by Rick Cohen, owner of Lockport NY’s Transit Drive-In, occasional contributor to this blog, and generally nice guy. Cohen told KSNW, “There’s no other drive-in theater like this in the country, it’s just designed, engineered and built to the highest standards in the drive in industry.”
According to the Wichita Eagle, Cohen and Blake Smith, co-owner of the Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa OK, have extended a cash offer starting at $750,000 to purchase the Starlite from Bucinski and keep it running. They had been separately trying to buy the Starlite from longtime owner Jim Goble before he died of cancer in 2015.
I hadn’t mentioned that Eagle story or other followups because I’m just pessimistic about this whole situation. Bucinski has been quiet since making the closing announcements, and my guess is that his profitable sale of the Starlite’s land is already wrapped up. I don’t see any evidence that public protests are going to change his mind. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong.
At any rate, here’s one more chance to get a video glance at how the Starlite looks today. Just in case it’s our last look at a Wichita landmark.