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September 15th, 2018
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Smith’s drive-in theater in Lubbock combines contemporary improvements, nostalgia Most Popular Our Picks Ryan Smith had worked part-time at indoor movie theaters while growing up, but never had attended a drive-in movie theater. But he sure had heard a lot about them from his grandfather, R.A. “Skeet” Noret, a very well-known theater exhibitor who owned and operated both hard-tops (indoor theaters) and open-airs (outdoor drive-ins) in Lubbock and West Texas. By 2002, with Smith in his mid-20s, he could not stop thinking about resurrecting cinematic Americana, taking a contemporary approach to nostalgic family entertainment. Smith’s family knew the theater business, but some members may have been surprised when he took a career detour, realizing that his dream was for his grandfather to mentor him in the drive-in movie business. The first thing Noret did was advise Smith to go see a movie at the Sky Vue Drive-In, opened by Noret in 1948 and owned and operated by Sam Kirkland for almost a quarter century. Kirkland showed him everything, from the projector to preparations for the popular Chihuahua sandwiches sold at the concession stand. Drive-in ownership became a hands-on project for Smith. He recalled, “In January of 2003, we purchased a Lubbock cotton farm.” That is where the Stars and Stripes Drive-In would open, at 5101 Clovis Road in Lubbock, on Aug. 21, 2003. Space was left for later expansion to three screens, which brought overall capacity to 1,200 cars per night. On April 1, 2015, Smith saw an opportunity to keep sharing the drive-in movie experience, and built another three-screen Stars and Stripes Drive-In in New Braunfels. That project dictated that Smith and his family -- he and his wife are parents to four daughters, all younger than 10 -- live in New Braunfels for an extended time. However, he said they never sold their house in Lubbock, and are happy to again call Lubbock home. Somewhat remarkable is the risk recognized, and taken, by Smith. True, more than 4,000 drive-ins attracted American moviegoers in 1958. In the 60 years rhat passed, the number of drive-in cinemas in the United States dipped to approximately 325, with fewer than 20 in Texas. Yet the Stars and Stripes has met with support, and not just locally. Barely one year ago, Good Housekeeping magazine printed “unappreciated attractions” in the United States, specifically listing only one outside-the-box place to visit in each state. Considering all potential attractions throughout Texas, Good Housekeeping printed: “Today’s luxury theaters may grab headlines, but the simple pleasure of watching a movie from your car can be more enjoyable. However, drive-in theaters are hard to come by. “Not so in Texas, thanks to the Stars & Stripes Drive-In in Lubbock and New Braunfels.” Smith had not even seen this article before last week. Castle Rock, Colo. resident Amy Stephens mentioned on Facebook, “The Stars and Stripes was not there when I was growing up (in Lubbock). But going to the drive-in is now a huge part of our summer trip to Lubbock each year. My boys have grown up going to that drive-in with their cousins every summer for the last eight-plus years. “It provides some of our favorite memories, including the time a few years ago that a haboob rolled in during the show...” Carol Severe Koenig, of Lubbock, posted her favorite drive-in memory: “Dressing the kids in jammies, with pillows. Putting lawn chairs in the back of the pick-up.” Drive-in discussions prompted Kathy Hadaway, of Lubbock, to remark, “Gosh, the drive-in is where I fell in love with my high school sweetheart. He took me and my siblings to the drive-in on many occasions. We would have a picnic and play games before the movies started. “Now fast forward: I did not marry him, but I still take my grandkids to the drive-in for a picnic and games before the movie starts.” Smith would learn by experience rules that must be enforced, but said, “I really don’t think I even had any rules in mind when the drive-in opened. I knew I wanted the Stars and Stripes to be a place where people could enjoy a Family Night, and couples could turn to us for a special Date night.” The Stars and Stripes is open nightly. Different double features are on all three screens. Admission prices: $8 for those age 12 and older and $5 for children between ages 4 and 11, with those age 3 and younger admitted free. Members of the military and first responders are $6 with a valid ID. Unlike the early drive-in, Smith wanted his to offer new movies, on the same “day and date” as the city’s multiplexes. He longed to mix a modern drive-in with the aura of older traditions. That meant offering the best in stereo FM radio sound, and purchasing digital projectors for the brightest possible images, just like indoor multiplexes. At the same time, he emphasized a different time period with his ’50s Cafe (concession stand), and an outdoor playground for use before the sun falls. Unlike an increasing number of outdoor theaters, the Stars and Stripes still allows the family dog at no extra charge, provided there is no woofing during features and the pet is either kept inside the car or on a leash next to the car. Nope, dogs cannot frequent the concession stand. Owners also must clean up after their pooch. Frequently asked questions, rules to remember and upcoming features are available at website driveinusa.com/lubbock/. Some rules Smith now enforces include: * Visitors can bring food from home, but no outside food/drink is allowed on the patio or at the ’50s Cafe’s seating. * Visitors can smoke at their vehicles, but not within 50 feet of the ’50s Cafe, patio or playground. “No smoking where others are bothered,” Smith added. * The two rows closest to the screen are reserved for smaller cars. There is a separate area further back for pickup trucks and SUVs that may block others’ sight lines. * Do not run cars during features. * Parking lights and headlights must be kept off. Keep in mind that many newer vehicles find headlights staying on even after the ignition is turned off. Smith explained, “That’s just one of the many parts of our employee training. If someone can’t get those lights off, we can help with that, too.”


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