Region’s sole drive-in to close early this year

By Jessica Cejnar/Wescom News Service September 11, 2012 09:37 pm

CRESCENT CITY – A sharp decrease in business this summer is prompting the local drive-in theater to close for the season earlier than normal while its owners pursue its possible sale.

Bill Thomas, whose family has owned and operated Red’s Crescent Drive-In since 1980, said the family has discussed selling the drive-in for about two years due to a gradual decline in business. At the beginning of this year, he said, he spoke to Crescent City real estate agent Donna Zorn, telling her he was looking for someone to purchase the theater. In the meantime, the drive-in will close at the end of September, Thomas said.

“We usually go up to almost Halloween,” he said. “This will probably be the earliest we close at the end of September.”

The Thomas family has been in the drive-in business for more than five decades, acquiring Terrace Drive-in just north of Brookings in 1959, christening the theater Red’s Drive-In. In 1980, the family expanded, buying Ocean Drive-In on Elk Valley Cross Road and turning it into Red’s Crescent Drive-In.

The family closed the Brookings drive-in a year later after a winter storm blew the screen down. The family also owned Red’s Showcase Twin Cinemas for about 20 years before it closed in 2007. Bill’s brother, Bert Thomas, said he and his brother began working at their family’s drive-in when they were about 12 years old, cleaning the theater in exchange for a candy bar and a drink. Now, Bert Thomas runs the box office and books the theater’s movies, while his mother Jessie, his sister-in-law Ginger, brother Joe and daughter Kallie run the concessions stand.   

Bill Thomas said he doesn’t want to close the theater, but for the last two years or so business has been “off.” He speculated that competition from other forms of technology including cable TV, smart phones and video games may be the reason.

“We’re in limbo land,” Thomas said, adding the decision to sell isn’t set in stone. “We wanted to run one more year this year and things are pretty off. The whole industry has been kind of off this year. It might be the economy.”

Bert Thomas said the theater had a good spring, but business suddenly dropped during the summer. He said he doesn’t know why.

“Weeknights we have been averaging between usually 20 and 35 cars a night, and Fridays and Saturdays are usually around 40 and 70 cars,” Bert Thomas said. “At first we thought the movies weren’t that popular, but even during some of the more popular ones we didn’t do that much (business). We had the new “Spider-Man” movie this Labor Day weekend and we didn’t do a whole lot either.”

Harbor Commissioner and retired teacher Jim Ramsey and his wife Diane have been working the concessions stand at Red’s Crescent Drive-In for about five years. The theater’s owners discuss selling the drive-in every year, he said, but this year has been especially bad.

In the drive-in’s heyday the theater would show two or three different movies a week with double billings, Ramsey said. Samples of the old billings adorn the drive-in’s walls. 

In the last four or five years there have been nights where well over 100 cars have crowded the theater, Ramsey said. This year, they haven’t approached the 100 figure at all, he said.

When asked why he thought people were staying away from the theater, Ramsey said it may have to do with the quality and quantity of the movies available. He noted that the first film in the “Hunger Games” trilogy was released in March and Crescent City Cinemas kept it until June. 

Ramsey also allowed that the drive-in’s dwindling business could be due to the economy, but he pointed out that a car load of people can see two movies for $12 and feed four kids at the concessions stand for less than $20.

“It’s a real unique institution we have here and I would hate to see people lose that because they just don’t go,” he said.