Tibbs Drive-In

480 S. Tibbs Avenue,
Indianapolis, IN 46241

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Tibbs Drive-In

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Tibbs Drive-In opened in 1967 as a single screen drive-in. In 1973 it became a triplex drive-in. In 1998 a fourth screen was added. Each screen shows a double feature.

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Lost Memory
Lost Memory on February 14, 2007 at 4:37 am

This is a 07/28/2002 article that mentions the Tibbs Drive-In:

“Indiana Sees Resurgence of Drive-in Movie Theaters.
By Russ Rizzo, The Indianapolis Star Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jul. 28—Children play tag on a playground below the 80-foot-tall screen. Minivans tune in to a low-power FM station to hear the previews. Kool-Aid and fried chicken sit ready for a movie meal.

This isn’t your mother’s drive-in.

Like the teenagers who once steamed Mustang windows in the back rows of their lots, drive-ins have matured. Outdoor theaters have transformed into family spots, and an American tradition is enjoying new life.

The rebirth is evident at Tibbs Drive-in, one of the few outdoor theaters left in the Indianapolis area. Cars pack the 22-acre lot so full on weekends that owner Ed Quilling added a fourth screen in 1998.

Drive-in enthusiasts have fewer choices than they did in the 1950s, when the state had 120 theaters, according to United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association, which tracks theater openings nationwide. Now 23 are operating in Indiana, and more could be on the way.

The reason for the revival: Family events are in, Quilling said, and the $3 admission for children under 12 can’t be beat. Adults pay $8. They can stay for two movies and take their own food.

“It’s a bargain,” Quilling said.

Stephanie Russell frequented drive-ins when they were a haven for romance-minded teen-agers or those who wanted to drink beer without parental knowledge. She helped stuff kegs into trunks and watched friends sneak in on foot during the 1980s.

“I don’t remember one movie I saw,” Russell said about hanging out with friends during what owners refer to as the troubled days of drive-ins.

Now “it’s very low-key,” the 33-year-old office worker said while sitting on the back of a white Ford Blazer with her two children.

At Tibbs, mom smokes, son Josh tosses a football and daughter Aerienne enjoys a Coke from home — all things the Russells can’t do at an indoor theater.

Bill Pickard recalls when the drive-in was a “roll-up-the-windows-and-steam-it-up kind of place.” Recently, he watched “Men in Black II” with his wife, Becky, and friends — while playing a game of cards.

Boom to bust

In many ways, the ‘50s was the golden age of drive-ins. More than 4,000 theaters operated then. Families packed their Buick Specials with popcorn and lemonade, and teen-agers ducked into trunks of Ford Thunderbirds to sneak into the hottest place to take a date.

In the Indianapolis area, dozens of drive-ins showed weekend features, including the Clermont Deluxe, which still operates. Even small towns could support more than one drive-in.

Carl and Ruth Stewart built their own drive-in near Bloomington in 1955 after growing tired of one within miles of their house. They put up a screen in their yard and attracted hundreds of customers each weekend; they still do.

The Tibbs opened in 1967 and enjoyed enough success to add two screens in 1973.

Plainfield resident Darlene Heckman recalls frequenting drive-ins in the 1960s, when there wasn’t much else for teen-agers to do. She rode in the trunk to take advantage of pay-by-the-carload pricing and would run the heater to stay warm during winter features.

The popularity of the cheap outdoor entertainment began to wane, though, in the late ‘70s. Owners began to sell their theaters partly because of increasing land values and partly because troublesome teen-agers scared away other customers.

“The teen-agers took over,” Ruth Stewart said about the industrywide slump. “It gave the drive-ins a bad name.”

The Stewarts held on to their theater, which has shown movies every weekend for 47 years, but others sold. About 1,000 drive-ins remained in the mid-1980s, and 400 of those closed within a decade.

Families attracted by children’s movies began to reclaim their territory in the early ‘90s, and business began to pick up again, said Jon Walker, president of the drive-in owners association, which formed three years ago.

Fifteen new drive-ins have opened nationally in the past decade and 39 reopened, bringing the total to about 430 theaters with 660 screens.

The Bel-Air Drive-in in Versailles reopened in 1995, and two others could reopen soon, Walker said.

“You hear rumblings every year,” Franklin said about the possibility that more will get back in business.

Drive-ins in Linton, Paoli and Madison still stand but remain closed.

Owners who survived slow sales in the ‘80s now report record crowds. They see more families than ever.

The Stewarts turn people away from their 400-car lot because it fills almost every weekend, and sales have grown 150 percent at Tibbs since 1994, when the current owner took control.

“With these kinds of crowds we don’t know why there aren’t more,” said Heckman, while sitting in the bed of a blue Chevy at Tibbs on a recent Saturday.

Increasing crowds at drive-ins likely are linked to a box-office boom at theaters of all kinds. Blockbuster movies this summer such as “Spiderman” and “Men in Black II” have driven ticket sales up 15 percent so far this year compared with last year, when admissions hit a 40-year high, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.

But there is more to the drive-in boom than Hollywood success, customers said.

Regulars mostly go for two reasons: nostalgia and price.

Drive-ins are no longer $5 a carload, but double features and child discounts allow parents to stretch the family dollar. Russell took six children to Tibbs this month and paid $33.

Crystal Chadwick recalls a time when she frequented Tibbs with her dad.

“It was just a me-and-Dad thing,” Chadwick said. She enjoyed a movie with a friend recently while Dad tended to her three children at home.

Customers are willing to go the extra mile — or many more — for the outdoor experience that many feared would have died by now.

People drive from as far as Cincinnati to get to Walker’s theater in Spencer. Mark Smoot, 19, and Tom Davis, 18, drove about 40 minutes from Brown County to Tibbs. They have a drive-in near them but wanted to experience another one.

While owners revel in recent success, some longtime customers entertain concerns that it won’t last.

David Whitney takes his 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to Tibbs to continue a family tradition.

“It’s just something I enjoyed growing up, and I wanted them to experience it,” Whitney said. “I worry that someday it won’t be around”.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm

What a great story,read so much about Drive-ins that are open, but look like a dump,it is good to put money back into the theatre,doesn’t look like a mom and pop operation,Great looking marquee.

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