Trivia that was accurate as of last week: Of the (about) 311 active US drive-ins, four of them are located by the city or town of Franklin in four different states. The first three are the Milky Way Drive-In in Wisconsin, Warner’s Drive-In in West Virginia, and Canary Creek Cinemas in Indiana.
Today, those are the only three. On Monday, the owners of the Franklin Drive-In in Kentucky announced that they had sold the place, and that it would no longer operate as a drive-in theater. There were several local news organizations reporting the story, but I don’t think any of them had any more to work with than the Franklin’s original Facebook post. WBKO, Bowling Green’s News Leader, posted a video anyway of mostly file footage, which is better than nothing.
Of course, I virtually visited the Franklin in 2017 during my 2017 Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. As I wrote then, the drive-in was a literal stone’s throw from Tennessee and less than 40 miles away from Nashville. The Franklin was family owned and operated since 1969, most recently by the Prices and their families. It began its life as the 31W or 31 West Drive-In, since that’s the highway that it’s on, and changed its name to the Franklin some time after the demise of the original Franklin Drive-In, which operated on Russellville Road from 1960 until some time around 1980.
The closure announcement noted that the Franklin “has been in our family for 33 years and we bought it from the original family who built it.” The owners blamed traffic (huh?), light pollution, and the rise of streaming services for their decision. I always thought that traffic was a good thing, with more motorists seeing your marquee, but light is definitely an issue in a lot of places. Since the dawn of television, it’s always been the main opponent for theaters in general; the solution is to provide an experience you can’t get at home.
But it’s always possible that the Franklin’s owners just got a nice retirement-funding purchase offer and took it. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t find someone else ready to keep the movie nights going.
After its original owners closed the adjoining restaurant, it looked like the Sunset Drive-In in Shinnston WV was going to stay dark. The outlook was bad enough that I had pulled the Sunset (or is it the Sunset Ellis?) off the Carload active drive-in list. But it goes back to one of my favorite rules: How can you tell when a drive-in has permanently closed? It’s not when it ends its season; it’s when it fails to open the following spring.
Here’s a great example of that rule in action. Rocky Morgan has stepped in to buy the historic Sunset Ellis Restaurant and its drive-in. The restaurant reopens on Feb. 16, and Morgan said he’ll reopen the Sunset Drive-In this summer. This great news came this week from WDTV, Weston WV’s News Leader, which provided a nice video that I can’t embed here.
In place of that video, I’ve added another video from last summer when the Sunset looked like it would close for good. That video came from WBOY, Clarksburg WV’s News Leader. So maybe you could watch that one first, as the “before” story, then click over to WDTV for the “after”. That way, you’ll be sure to catch the happy ending.
Continuing problems at the Sunset Drive-In in Shinnston WV have left owner John Ellis wondering whether he’ll be able to show movies again this season. That’s according to a series of reports by WBOY, Clarksburg’s News Leader.
It all started in February this year. After a solid 2021 season, the Sunset was hit by vandals, who trashed the projection room, stole computers, and cut wires. Ellis worked to repair his digital projector and was able to reopen for a weekend earlier this month. Then the projector stopped working, and now he’s looking for parts and a repair technician if he can find them.
In between, the venerable, adjacent Sunset Ellis Restaurant, owned by Anthony Ellis, closed its doors Sunday. The owner cited problems finding the ingredients he needed for his specialties, and in finding workers for the kitchen. Members of Ellis family have owned the complex since 1955, and opening the restaurant five years later.
For now, I’m marking the Sunset as closed, dropping it from the Carload active drive-in theater list. Here’s hoping I get to put it back soon.