Frozen In Time: A Summer Tradition At Starlite Drive-In [VIDEO]
LITCHFIELD — This week in our 58th installment of our “Frozen In Time” series we caught a movie under the stars in Litchfield. Starlite Drive-In opened in the 1950s. At the time it was one of nearly 100 outdoor theaters in Minnesota. The theater closed down in the 1970s.
It was Tim Eiler‘s childhood dream to own a theater. When the Starlite was put up for sale in 1998 he bought it. Eiler has worked in the theater business since 1976. He started out as an usher working for his local movie theater. He began fixing projectors and working on sound systems.
He says his parents used to bring him to outdoor movies during the summer months when he was a kid.
The Starlite Drive-In has five screens that each play double features and a concession stand. Families bring their lawn chairs and blankets out for a few movies under the stars each weekend through the end of August. You can either listen to the movie from the speakers outside or you can stay in your car listen through your radio.
Eiler sells a variety of concessions at the snack bar and he encourages people to have dinner while they are there.
Family movies and comedies typically draw a bigger crowd but Eiler says the biggest ticket selling movie ever was Titanic. The James Cameron film brought in over 1,000 people on opening night. Eiler recalls that during intermission there was a huge line for the bathroom and the concession stand. He had to play the 20 minute intermission tailor two times to make sure that no one missed the second half of the movie.
“It was a movie I almost didn’t play,” says Eiler. He admits he’s glad he changed his mind. To this day the only movie that has come close to Titanic’s ticket sales was a double feature with Deep Impact and Grease. The double feature drew in about 80-percent of the sales that Titanic did.
Eiler says this year, theaters were required to make the switch over to a digital system. It’s something he says he believes put many drive-ins out of business.
“It’s a labor of love, I’m not doing this for the profit,” says Eiler. He continues, “you only have three months to pay all of your bills for the year.” Today, the outdoor theater is one of about five left in Minnesota.
The Starlite Drive-In is open weekends and some weekdays through August.