Mitchell SD’s Starlite won’t reopen

Starlite Drive-In theater sign
Photo by Granola via Cinema Treasures.

Skipping over the many happy, mundane stories about drive-ins reopening for another season leaves me with the unhappy ones. This one from Mitchell’s Daily Republic, via Yahoo News, is quite sad. In 2020, the Starlite Drive-In Theatre there was a great example of a pandemic-based revival when owner Logan Luxury Theatres reopened it. Now the Starlite’s Facebook page tells the story, “It’s been a great run but all good things must come to an end.”

After a year of patronage that “came close to attendance levels in the 1970’s when drive-ins were at their peak,” business had faded for two years. That was the reason Logan gave for its decision not to reopen the Starlite this year. The post invited readers to visit “the Luxury 5 Cinemas downtown.” If I were cynical, I’d guess that once the indoor theaters were allowed to reopen, management saw the drive-in as unwanted competition.

The Starlite had closed in 2013, the year several drive-ins closed because of Hollywood’s change to digital projection. I’m glad that the folks in Mitchell were able to have an encore these past three years. Who knows, maybe enough of them will ask to bring the Starlite back to life one of these days.

June 3: Midway Drive-in Theatre, Miller SD

Midway Drive-In marquee

photo from the Midway Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 154 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Once again I was fortunate enough to have a fairly short drive, less than an hour from the Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre just north of Redfield to the Midway Drive-in Theatre north of Miller.

According to a photo on the Midway’s Facebook page, Ernest Schweigerdt and John Kirschenman built the drive-in in 1953, midway between the towns of Miller and St. Lawrence. The original projector lasted until the Midway switched to digital projection in 2012.

In 1963, Schweigerdt’s son-in-law and daughter, Marvin and Alyce Oligmueller, purchased the drive-in. On an August evening in 1968, a violent storm blew down the wooden screen in the middle of a movie. Within a week and a half, a new metal screen was erected and movies were shown throughout the rest of the summer.

In 2004, Midway Drive-In came under the ownership of Sally and Duane Resel, Stephan and Lori Resel, Sarah Resel, Mike and Nan Donlin and Stephanie and the late Jim Bonebright.

In 2014, Mike Donlin told the Rapid City Journal that the Midway Drive-in was still getting by financially. “We’re sitting fine,” he said. “I’ve never really figured out what we make in wages, but we pay all our bills and everything and people have a good time. That’s all I really care about.”

Even though the latest Wimpy Kid entry has been out for a while, I hadn’t run into it yet. I suppose it kept my eyes occupied while my mouth worked on popcorn and a bar-b-dog. I’m always thankful for another night at the movies.

Miles Today / Total:  49 / 19765 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul / 70

Nearby Restaurant: Funny how one word can change everything. The Hi-Lite Bar and Lounge sounds like a smoky dive, but the Hi-Lite Steakhouse and Lounge sounds more like a restaurant. Good thing they made that change, because the menu’s got something for everyone. I had the mushroom, onion, and provolone burger. And beer, of course.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Another small town in South Dakota, another Super 8, but this time there was an alternative. The Dew Drop Inn Motel is one of those mom and pop motels that take care of the rooms personally. Mine had a microwave, a fridge, and decent wifi.

Only in Miller: On Thursday, I saw the pheasant statue in Gregory SD. On Friday, I saw the pheasant statue in Redfield. Today I saw two statues, but they weren’t pheasants. As related in Roadside America, at the intersection of the two main highways in Miller, there are statues of cattle on 8-foot poles – a Hereford on the north side, an Angus to the south.

Next stop: TK-Starlite Drive-In, Neligh NE.

June 2: Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre, Redfield SD

Aerial photo of the entire Pheasant City Drive-in lot

photo from the Pheasant City Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 153 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. As I zigzag to find open drive-ins, I headed north from Gregory SD for a three-hour drive to the Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre just north of Redfield.

According to the Pheasant City’s history page, it opened in August 1953 as the Sioux Drive-In. It was the fourth Sioux of Dan Peterson’s State Theatre Company, joining its brothers in Brookings, Pierre, and Rapid City.

Don and Kay Archer bought Redfield’s Sioux in 1963. Kay’s parents had operated the drive-in, and the Rainbow Drive-In in Gettysburg SD, for many years. Don was teaching in Tulare SD, so the Sioux was a good summer job.

About 1970, the Archers moved to Chamberlain. In 1972, they sold the Sioux to Tom and Letha Gallup, who renamed it Pheasant City.

According to the Rapid City Journal, the drive-in was “on the brink of closure” when Dave and Stacey Marlow and her parents bought it in 2014 and installed a digital projector. “We just didn’t want to see it close,” Stacey Marlow said. “If it was closed, our community would lose something pretty great.”

It’s a good movie and a great drive-in movie, but I’m not sure I would recommend watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for a sixth time in four weeks as I did here. I hope something else is showing Saturday night.

Miles Today / Total:  174 / 19716 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / 69

Nearby Restaurant: Leo’s Good Food is a Redfield tradition, right down to its slogan “Family dining you can bank on”. Because it’s in a former bank building, you see. It started across the street in 1964, then moved to the bank in 1983. The salad bar is in the vault. My steak was prepared just right, and the lemon meringue pie topped off a great meal.

Where I Virtually Stayed: This is another one of those times when the Super 8 stands out in a small town. My room was comfy, had a fridge and microwave, and the classic Super 8 continental breakfast was there to get me on the road again.

Only in Redfield: On Thursday, I saw the pheasant statue in Gregory SD. Redfield has a taller pheasant statue, as part of the town’s claim to be Pheasant Capital of the World. As reported by Roadside America, pheasants were first released into the wild in North America near Redfield.

Next stop: Midway Drive-in Theatre, Miller SD.