As a "thank you" to the community that has supported the theater for nearly 60 years, Starlite is re-opening during the off-season for the first time to celebrate Halloween.
For broke students, this provides a competitive cheap date opportunity with a sense of authenticity.
Dubbed the “Halloween Haunting” event, the Starlite Drive-In Theater of Christiansburg will open Oct. 30 to show the fan-favorite “Friday the 13th: Part 3” and on Oct. 31 with the vampire-comedy “Fright Night.” Both shows start at 8 p.m.
In lieu of a normal admissions price, Starlite will be accepting non-perishable food items for the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program. The MCEAP works to provide financial assistance, food, and clothing for “families and individuals in immediate, temporary and emergency situations.”
Peggy Beasley, owner of the theater, says this was simply an opportunity to “give back to the community that loves the endearing qualities of the Starlite.”
Starlite was opened in 1953 by Richard and Dorothy Beasley. The two "built, owned, and operated the Starlite Theater together for all those years” before Richard passed away in July of 2009. Peggy has kept the spirit of old-time drive-ins alive at Starlite with “low prices, friendly atmosphere, and a snack bar complete with traditional hotdogs.”
To be sure, the price of concessions — 75 cents for popcorn and $1.50 for drinks — certainly sounds like something out of the 1950s compared to the prices you will find at a regular movie theater today.
All this has led to a cadre of loyal fans who Beasley said “appreciate a taste of nostalgia” during the theater’s summer season.
One of those fans is Karen Clark Nagy, who, when she saw there was no Facebook page for the Starlite in March of 2010, decided to start one herself. What started off as a small group shared with a few local friends is now Starlite’s official page, with more than 4,000 likes. Nagy now volunteers as the administrator for both the Facebook page and Starlite’s website, which has led to more than a few interesting encounters.
Nagy said a special moment occurred when she read a comment from a woman talking about “taking her grandson to Starlite for the first time and the reason it’s so special is that her first date with her husband years ago was at Starlite.”
It is this sense of tradition and closeness to the community that Beasley credits with keeping Starlite lit when so many other drive-ins have gone dark.
‘A cheap date’
With non-perishable food items replacing the price of tickets and only 75 cents for popcorn at Starlite, students have a financial incentive to support the theater.
Nagy recommends arriving when the gates open to avoid waiting in line at the very popular snack bar.
“Hot dogs are a tradition at the Starlite, made the same way for almost 60 years with Beasley’s famous chili recipe,” Nagy said. “Therefore, to get the full effect of Starlite, arrive early, bring chairs and blankets to sit outside, visit the snack bar, and enjoy the activities.”
If finances are not enough to entice students, drive-in theaters also have reputations as date-night locales, going back to the early 1900s; they were even refered to as “a demoralizing influence leading to promiscuous relationships” by Reverend J. Virgil Lilly in 1947.
This was the widely held view at the time — so much so that by the 1950s, a common slang phrase for drive-in theaters was a “passion pit.”
The late 1950s and early 1960s were the peak years for the drive-in industry, with an estimated 4,000 theaters in operation at that time. But with the coming of VCRs and video rentals in the 1970s, the popularity of drive-ins experienced a steady decline. From those 4,000 theaters in America alone, there are now only an estimated 462 theaters worldwide, with 368 of those in the United States.
Of the original 15 drive-in theaters to open, just one remains: the legendary Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theater of Orefield, Pa., which has been in continuous operation since 1934.
Starlite has been one of the few theaters to beat the odds, just a few miles from Virginia Tech’s campus.