Movies under the stars

Amanda Garrett

Midway Drive-In serves the Kent area for 56 years

Right past Wal-Mart in Ravenna, students can find a cheaper movie theater alternative with a nostalgic touch, the Midway Drive-In. For only $15, patrons can fill a car with people and enjoy a movie in the comfort of their own automobile.

Credit: Andrew popik

The Romance.

The Drama.

The sloppy fries.

Since 1949, Midway Drive-In has been giving the Kent area a dose of Hollywood glamour mixed with heaping helpings of high-fat comfort food.

Midway is one of the dwindling number of drive-in theaters left in the United States. At the height of their popularity in the 1950s, there were 189 drive-ins in Ohio. There are currently 36 drive-ins in Ohio, mostly in Northeast Ohio.

Midway keeps packing customers in by charging $15 per car and serving up their signature menu of fries and hot dogs topped with chili and cheese, manager Matt Knepp said.

“We try to be more family focused at Midway” said Knepp, who is a senior business and finance major. “The great thing about working here is the repeat customers who keep coming back. We get people who pull up to the ticket window and ask us ‘what’s playing.’ They just come for the drive-in experience.”

Loyal Midway customers Jeff Stamm and Sharon Haffner brought a carload of three children and four dogs to see the xXx: State of the Union and Hitch.

The group comes to Midway every weekend because of the fun and the good prices, Haffner’s daughter Ashlee said.

“It’s fun to see the movies outside, where you can talk and have fun with your friends,” said Ashlee, who is looking forward to catching House of Wax at Midway this summer. “The other drive-ins in this area, they’re expensive. Everything here is really cheap.”

Other drive-ins in the area include B & K Drive-In in Akron, Magic City Drive-In in Norton and Blue Sky Drive-In in Wadsworth.

Midway broke its attendance record in 2004, when they drew more than 600 cars for Finding Nemo. This year they plan on doing good business with Madagascar, Batman Begins and The Fantastic Four. Midway would also like to get the final Star Wars, but they’re still in negotiations with the distribution company.

Midway’s dual screens allow the theater to reach a wider audience, assistant manager and junior justice studies manager Kale Suedkamp said.

“We usually try to put family films on one of our screens,” he said. “While we save the other one for films that appeal more to college students.”

Midway was built in 1949 by Jack Vogel, a famous Drive-In theater architect. Jon Knepp bought the theater from Vogel in 1990. A thunderstorm destroyed one of Vogel’s original blue silk screen towers in 2000, but Knepp rebuilt the tower according to Vogel’s original design.

Midway broadcasts the sound for its movies through two broadcast signals the station owns.

“The station signal isn’t very strong,” Knepp said. “You can pick up the signal until right around the Birdie Shack and then it fades out.”

Suedkamp said he will miss the family atmosphere at Midway when he graduates.

“When I leave here I’ll miss the friendly hour before the movie when families come and have fun,” he said. “People come and start playing catch with their kids. They start getting their popcorn and sloppy dogs and get ready to enjoy the movie.”

Contact News Correspondent Amanda Garrett at [email protected]