Drive-ins have been disappearing for decades, declining to about 400 today from a peak of more than 4,000 in 1958, largely because of rising property prices and changing movie-going habits. After today, there will be 30 or so scattered across New York State, two in Connecticut, and just one, the Delsea in Vineland, in all of New Jersey, the state where drive-ins were born in 1933.
By the 1970s, however, theaters were being enveloped by the suburbs. Many owners sold to developers who coveted the theaters’ vast parking lots for shopping malls and housing divisions.
“The land bought back in the 1950s and 1960s all of a sudden became an ideal spot for a Wal-Mart and Home Depot in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Jennifer Sherer Janisch, the chief executive of Drive-Ins.com, which tracks the industry. “As land prices skyrocketed, the feasibility of operating just at night didn’t make sense.”