Getty 4 A Return Engagement

June 17, 2005
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MUSKEGON — A crowd gathers in cars, trucks, vans and lawn chairs, with one couple even bringing a mattress in the back of their pickup truck to watch the DreamWorks Animation film "Madagascar."

"It's a bed in a bed," joked Richard Krontz, the owner of the pickup.

Krontz and his wife, Elizabeth, said they went to the Getty 4 Drive-In in Muskegon for the experience and to see two movies for the price of $7.50 per adult.

The Wyoming couple came to the drive-in twice in one week after hearing about it from her sister-in-law.

"We said, 'This was so much fun, let's do it again,' " she said.

Though the couple left their children at home this time, Elizabeth Krontz said the drive-in makes family entertainment easier.

"I can bring my kids with me if I can't find a babysitter," she said.

Though tall white screens at one time dotted the landscape in cities across the country, the Getty now is one of the last theaters in Michigan offering the nostalgic experience of viewing movies from the comfort of a vehicle.

Drive-in theaters often were located on large tracts of land in or near large population centers, and that made them attractive to commercial developers who could make one purchase and build a significant project on the site. One by one, the theaters disappeared and were replaced by strip malls, office buildings and even miniature golf courses.

Is the same fate in store for West Michigan's last drive-in?

Not yet.

Executive Vice President of Marketing and Film Ron Van Timmeren said the unique drive-in experience is paying off — for now.

"It is paying for itself and making a small profit for the company," he said. "It's sitting on some valuable real estate and for now it's earning a profit and it's providing a service. In a way it is giving people in the West Michigan area a chance to do something somewhat rare. It's a nice alternative entertainment opportunity."

Van Timmeren said in 2001 the drive-in became more popular after news of a possible sale leaked out. The land did not sell, however, and the drive-in was given a second chance.

"All of that sort of sparked a re-interest and resurgence, along with some good movies and additional marketing that got us going and into a more profitable situation," he said.

Drive-ins are vulnerable to closure in Michigan because they are a seasonal business and because developers are willing to scoop up the valuable land.

"So far that hasn't happened to the Getty," he said. "It came close, but right now we're basically in that spot where we're making a little profit and the real estate business hasn't shown better use for the land."

Van Timmeren said there are no plans to close the drive-in.

"We hope to continue to operate it as long as it's profitable and there isn't a great cry of demand for the real estate for another use," he said. "It's just something that's unique that's also a blast."

Besides the Getty, a check of www.drive-ins.com shows three other drive-ins within 100 miles of downtown Grand Rapids: the Sunset in Hartford (61 miles), the Five Mile in Dowagiac (72) and the Capri in Coldwater (82).

Kim and Allan Wood have been coming to the Getty Drive-In three or four times yearly since they discovered it after moving to Hudsonville.

"We like the outdoors," Kim Wood said. "You have more freedom and the kids can go and play."

The Woods and their children Josh, 12, Ashley, 8, and Matthew, 7, also came to the drive-in to see "Madagascar." Kim Woods said the drive-in also works well because the children can watch the first movie, then fall asleep in the back of the car and mom and dad can watch the second feature.

Kim Woods said the family always packs a good assortment of blankets, books and extra clothes.

"It's kind of neat to have the theater outside," she said.

Manager Kevin Sims said the experience of the drive-in is about comfort. People can relax, put their feet up, talk to their friends and family and even leave their cell phones on during the show. "Everything you can't do in a theater," he said.

Sims said price is also a benefit of going to the drive-in.

"It's economical," he said. "You get two first-run features."

The drive-in experience improved in 1994 when sound became available over the car radio, rather than through speakers connected to the traditional sound system. Sims said each screen has its own half-watt radio station that viewers tune in to. The option to listen through the speakers is still available, but the radio option has better sound quality and makes the drive-in's upkeep easier, Sims said.

The drive-in also builds a loyalty that traditional movie theaters may not, Sims said. People come from all over for the experience, some coming several times a summer from places as far as Warren

"Once we introduce these kids to the drive-in, they're going to keep on coming and bring their kids," he said

Though Michigan weather can change in an instant, Sims said rain doesn't affect the showing of the movie. But there is one weather change that will cause the drive-in to shut down.

"Fog," Sims said. "That's the F-word. We don't say the F-word around here."    

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