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REFLECTIONS - Drive-in tradition

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:15 PM

It has been a seasonal tradition for decades in the area pack up chairs, blankets, pillow, toys and junk food, then stay out until 2 a.m. watching movies at the Star View Drive-in.

For Shelley Ann and Dave Sehl, it's a weekly tradition. They bring their son, Jaden Fannin, almost every Sunday evening.

"This is our Friday night actually," Dave said, because the couple works on the weekends and chills out at the movies after getting off work Sundays.

"We usually pig out," Fannin said, and they come prepared with a softball, football or Frisbee to enjoy games before the movies start. Last weekend, he brought a friend, Nathan Plas. The boys were ready to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "The Spiderwick Chronicles."

Steve Witter owns the Star View with his cousin, Jan Doughty. They enjoy providing the chance for families to spend time together and watch movies under the stars.

"I'm proud that there's something like this which has three generations enjoying themselves together," Witter said.

"I've been here since '74," he said. Witter bought it with Doughty last summer when the former owners, Bill and Sandy Steel, decided to sell.

"It has always been a family thing and I hated to see it go," he said. "It has been in the back of my head for 30 years. I started off cleaning the lot and then taking tickets and then it turned into everything else."

He keeps the theater open every night during the summer so people can get to the movies even with an unconventional work schedule. Two new movies start every Friday and often include recent releases.

"We can get movies 10 days after they come out," he said, so he usually tries to package a new release with one from a few months earlier to keep costs down.

"Every Monday morning I have to dicker movie prices with Los Angeles," he said.

"Strangers" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" will begin Friday.

The weather can be a problem sometimes, Witter admitted, but said he still had patrons on a night earlier this season with it was 50 degrees and raining.

He's also come to open the ticket booth and had more than 10 cars already waiting in line.

The Star View is a bargain for moviegoers since the $7 admission includes two movies. Children under age 12 are usually free, but Paramount Pictures requires the theater to charge $5 for children aged 5 to 11.

Many people head up to the late for weekend relaxation, but Marty and Sarah Smith bring their children from Sandusky down to the Star View on Ohio 20 between Norwalk and Monroeville several times each summer.

"It doesn't cost a lot with kids under 12 being free," she said. "The kids love it and its big excitement for them." The family first found the drive-in as they drove by one day and comes back every year.

Another favorite of the drive-in for many patrons is the concessions.

The women there have many years experience between them. Shirley Sipp has been working there for 49 seasons and said she has a good crew that tends to come back year after year.

"I get a good crew and they stay for awhile," she said.

Sandy Sanders, who works there with her sister, Juanita Windgate, said the women enjoy working together.

"The food crew knows what they're doing," she said. "Everybody works together."

Sanders remembers coming to the drive-in when she was just a child. "Fifty years ago they had slides and a merry-go-round on the play area," she said.

The projectionist is another worker who learned his job at an early age.

Brian Sipp, Shirley's son, started when he was just 15 years old. While the concession stand has had many of the same types of food available for many years, the projector's booth has seen many technological advances. Sipp knows both the old methods and today's version since he has worked there for so long.

Thanks to Witter and Doughty's dedication to keeping the business open, area residents can still enjoy a summer tradition that was born in the 1930s.

Richard M. Hollingshead, of New Jersey, started out with a 1928 Kodak projector mounted on the hood of his car and a sheet hung in his backyard for the screen. He used a radio for sound.

To test for weather conditions, Hollingshead even set off his lawn sprinkler to simulate rain as he tinkered with his idea for outdoor movies.

He eventually got a patent in 1933.

Akron got Ohio's first drive-in in 1937. That number jumped to 80 in 10 years and eventually to 189 by the late 1960s.

Drive-ins went on the decline after that with about 80 percent of Ohio's closing down. But a resurgence was seen in the late 90s with some drive-ins that had sat idle reopening.

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