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Idaho Falls drive-ins not opening for season; changing movie industry blamed

Owner: 'We hope to reopen'

Idaho Falls drive-in theaters not opening for 2017 season

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - A piece of Idaho Falls history is calling it quits after 70 years of providing family fun. The Motor-Vu Drive-in theater will not open for the 2017 season.

“It's just too bad. It is just really disappointing to us,” Marcia Leonard, owner of the theaters, said.

Since 1947, the drive-in has shown countless films, and as things get better with age, so does technology, which creates a small problem.

“Digital is good, but digital is bad for us,” Leonard said.

Because the movie industry is moving to a digital format, the traditional 35-millimeter film the theater currently uses is a thing of the past. Upgrading equipment at the drive-ins is costly. An upgrade to Motor-Vu could cost upwards of $130,000. Leonard and her family also own Sky-Vu Drive-in four miles south of Motor-Vu in Idaho Falls. An upgrade to both could cost $300,000.

“It is a large amount. We could (take out a loan), but because we are a seasonal business, I don't want to go into debt,” Leonard said. “The drive-ins are paid for because we are only opened a seasonal amount and limited at that depending on the weather. I just don't want to leave it to that kind of chance.”

A digital projector would cost Leonard about $70,000. The remaining costs would come from building a safe room to store the equipment out of the elements and away from debris.

"Drive-ins are all about dirt, wind, being outside, grease, popcorn, hamburger, cheeseburger and whatever is the worst thing for digital equipment,” Leonard said.

Drive-ins nationwide are dying. The United Drive-in Theater Owners Association said in 1958 there were more than 4,000 theaters in the U.S. At the end of 2016, only 324 remained.

“There's a couple of reasons for that. One is definitely digital,” Leonard said. “The other is that the land where these drive-ins are becomes extremely valuable. Much more than purchasing the real estate and the production of the drive-in. So that is why, especially California, places like that, you just see them gone.”

The drive-in concept started in 1933 when Richard Hollingshead, Jr. built a backyard projector for his tall mother who did not fit into the typical theater.

“Thanks to the tall lady,” Leonard said. "We love you, tall lady."

Leonard's love for the drive-in has her working overtime to try to save the Motor-Vu. The second drive-in, Sky-Vu, is up for sale. Leonard hopes the funds from its sale could be used to make upgrades to the Motor-Vu. Some upgrades are already underway, with the goal of opening sooner rather than later.

"We just had the screen repainted and we had the steel maintenance done," Leonard said. “We want to try and maintain it so that we can go digital."

Hundreds of people would visit the Motor-Vu Drive-in on weekends in years past. Vehicles would be stopped for miles on Yellowstone Highway waiting to get in.

"People from all over the nation, even the world,” Leonard said. “We get people from all over the world for the drive-in and people who just love them and can't wait to come back when they come to Yellowstone or whatever."

On Facebook, the excitement about the Motor-Vu Drive-in is high. All you have to do is search “Motor-Vu Drive-in Idaho Falls” to see the comments from people awaiting the opening day.

“Anyone know what is playing at Motor-Vu Drive-in in Idaho Falls,” Brianne Larson posted. “I'm pretty sure Sky-Vu is closed.”

Fans of the Motor-Vu hope the shows will be playing again, something Leonard said she is working toward.

"I'm sorry we are not open. I am sorry for their loss of enjoyment,” Leonard said. "We love you Idaho. Thank you for supporting us all these years."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help get the Motor-Vu back up and running. It has raised just under $2,000 of the $300,000 goal.

There are six other drive-ins still operating in Idaho:



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