Star View Drive-in: Shows will go on

NORWALK Drive-ins are making a comeback, but employees of Norwalk's Star View Drive-in aren't surprised with the news.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Drive-ins are making a comeback, but employees of Norwalk's Star View Drive-in aren't surprised with the news.

Summer months and weekends are always the busiest, but employees say the constant flow of patrons has remained the same, if not grown.

"Business never really changed," said Shirley Sipp, veteran employee and manager of concessions. "We're just as busy."

According to, the park your car, snuggle under covers, family-oriented outdoor theaters are experiencing a revival. Tight budgets encourage families to once again revert to outings that cost less and provide more.

Once abundant in the United States, the Star View is one of 33 drive-in theaters in operation in Ohio today. At one time there were 270 such theaters in the state after Richard Hollingshead developed the patent in the 1930s.

In 1933, Hollingshead developed the first park your car, consume a meal and watch a movie outdoors in Camden, N.J.

By the 1960s, more than 4,063 drive-ins were scattered throughout the country. There are only 400 left standing today.

Nearly half a century after its beginning in 1949, the Star View on U.S. 20 west of Norwalk has changed owners for the first time but still enjoys a crowd of nostalgic, regular customers and even some newcomers.

Drive-in experience

The smells of buttery popcorn and bug spray are familiar to the workers who have seen people come and go.

"We've seen all kinds of people here," Sipp reminisced. "There's always something going on."

Families backed in mini-vans and trucks, popping trunks open, arranging lawn chairs and distributing food and beverages from open coolers.

Starting early, toddlers played in the grass and munched on various treats while moms and dads cranked up radios to hear the movie's dialogue. Teenagers wrapped in sleeping bags giggling while young couples cuddled closer in the front seat as the night's air chilled. Families playing games of catch and Frisbee remind us family time doesn't only happen in the movies.

Once costing a mere 25 cents per car and $1 for more than three in a vehicle, Norwalk resident Thomas Fortney said the admittance increase to $6 per person is still a small price to pay to see two or more newly released movies at once.

"I've been coming here since I was a kid in the 60s," Sandusky resident Todd Curry said. "Even when the Sandusky theater was open, my family came here. They like this place more."

Drive-ins' future

William and Arlene Steel owned the drive-in until earlier this summer when they gave up the Star View for $75,000. They said the tradition will continue on, however.

"We are very comfortable with selling," Arlene Steel had said of the new owners. "We know it is in good hands."

Two trusted employees who worked at the drive-in for years, Steve Witter and Janet Doughty, purchased the lot and its contents.

"We'll continue to keep this family-oriented," Doughty said of her and her cousin Witter's plans, "And maintenance and upkeep of course." forecasts an increase in drive-in theaters within the next five years, stating, "Drive-ins continue to serve an increasing number of families seeking affordable family entertainment. As our world becomes more hectic and less safe, the more the drive-ins become a wholesome retreat from it. In some ways, taking a movie in under the stars helps us hold on to a way of life that is now threatened."