After 71 Years, Waterford's 'Sunset Drive-In Theater' Is Still Going Strong
And here in Erie County, we have just one left, so we took a trip down to Waterford, and got a front row seat to tradition.
(ERIE. P.A. - WICU/WSEE/CW) – At the Sunset Drive-In Theater in Waterford, the popcorn is always popping, and the line of cars waiting to get in can stretch for what seems like miles, down Route 97.
But people don't seem to mind.
"It's a lot of fun." said Saegertown native, Deborah McBryar.
McBryar, and her daughter, Amanda Nearhoof, have been coming to the theater for over a decade. McBryar first took Nearhoof when she was 20.
They say, everything from the snack bar, to the movie experience itself, is tradition. And its something they've passed down to grandkids, as Nearhoof always brings her three children.
"We really enjoy it, kind of as a family outing." McBryar said
And that's just how owner, Dennis Koper has tried to keep it.
"Families get together, and spend time with their kids.” said Koper “Which they should do more of."
He first started working at the Sunset in the 1960s, and then bought the over 70-year-old theater in the 1980s. And since then, he's worked to keep it, a fun, and friendly place.
From joking with guests, like Nearhoof and McBryar, to the front ticket booth, which is run by his wife, Margret.
When we caught up with her, she was going back and forth to collect money, hand out tickets and garbage bags, all while dealing with the line of cars.
Even during the busy rush, she still took time out to talk with people, and say her standard “thank you.”
“I don’t know, I got [a system] memorized.” she said
But, the Kopers say, perhaps the most special part about this place, is the fact that it’s one of the only ones remaining. Currently, there are fewer than 400 drive-in theaters across the United States, a number which has dropped drastically from its heyday.
"You're just part of history I guess." Dennis said
“[I tell my kids] there's not many around, enjoy it now." said Nearhoof
So to stay around, Koper made one change: Four years ago, he replaced the long-standing film projector, and purchased a digital projector.
Something he says other theaters needed to invest in, but just didn't do.
“But, we did." said Dennis
ANDREW: “Now, would you change anything else?”
DENNIS KOPER: “No, no plans to change anything else.”
And that includes his movie-time tradition.
When the lot fills up, he sits down in his favorite spot, right next to the projector.
And for everyone else, it’s time to sit back... relax... and enjoy the show, just like they have been doing for the last 70 years.
The season runs through Labor Day.