Area Drive-In Still Shines as Entertainment Hot Spot
June 23, 2016 by Rose Nemunaitis

Summer's here, school's out and a well anticipated film about a favorite forgetful fish named Dory is making a splash at a venue losing ground…

Summer’s here, school’s out and a well anticipated film about a favorite forgetful fish named Dory is making a splash at a venue losing ground in other states, but running strong in Geauga County.

“It’s good old-fashioned family entertainment,” said Michael Marxen, Mayfield Road Drive-In Theatre’s general manager. “It’s like seeing a movie in your living room, only your sharing your living room with about 300 other families, all sharing the same experience together.”

Built in 1945, Mayfield Road Drive-In, 12100 Mayfield Road in Munson Township, joins 27 other outdoor movie theaters in Ohio, a state with the most drive-ins in the nation. Pennsylvania and New York are close behind.

“I don’t know if there is truly a secret to success,” said Marxen, adding they just renovated their concession stand.

“We just try to constantly improve the facility and experience,”he said.

It’s a gentle balance of keeping up with the times and trying to keep a bit of the past alive with continuing the one value price per carload and a concession stand with a large variety of favorite movie-going snacks.

“Two things that must be tried are the S’Mores and the Sloppy Menu,” Marxen said. The Sloppy Menu is either a hot dog or French fries topped with nacho cheese sauce and Coney sauce, made by the owner himself.

The first theater for the “auto-bound” opened in 1933 in Camden, N.J., with the idea of showing a movie under the stars. The height of drive-in popularity peaked in 1958, when there were 4,063 theaters nationwide, said manager Ray Occhioners, of Munson Township.

Today, there are 324 theaters open in America, he said.

“It is awesome to see so many family friends and people in general enjoying the last of a dying tradition that was such a joy to experience in my youth,” said Jason Long, formerly of Chardon, with kids Lillian, 9, Maddy, 7, and Linkon, 4, in tow. They were all out of their vehicle after pulling in line as the first movie-goers of the evening.

“Any night without rain is great,” Occhioners said.

The 40-foot-by-80-foot screen at the theater brings bright, high definition movies by digital projection.

“It’s like sitting in your living room watching HD on TV,” Occhioners said.

Marxen added, “We are fortunate in Ohio to have the most in any state still operating with 28, and seven of these are in the Northeast Ohio area.”

Long said his family goes to the drive-in a lot, at least two or three times a month.

“This is our weekend gig,” he said, as his trio of kids tossed a giant disc and swirled around with bottles of bubbles.

Back near the concession stand, Occhioners cruised through, checking with Marxen and John Knepp, owner of the theater since 1993.

Knepp also owns Midway Twin Drive-In in Ravenna.

In 1993, the original screen at Mayfield’s was lost to a wind storm.

“There are always a couple big movies in summer,” said Occhioners, in front of the neatly displayed rows of candy and aroma of freshly-made popcorn. “This is the biggest one up to this point.”

Previous to Knepp, it was owned by the Maisano family.

“The concession stand starts getting busy, more cars are pouring in and getting settled up to showtime,” said Marxen, who began in 1984 as a lot attendant at Midway. “Once the National Anthem starts, everyone returns to cars and settle in for the first feature. Next intermission hits and it’s time for the concession stand to gear back up with people stretching their legs before the second feature.”

Soon, vehicles began rolling in, taking their spots on tailgates, blankets and lawn chairs as the sounds of “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” filled the air from the night’s preshow entertainment stage.

“We’re excited to be here,” said Nancy Noltkamper, accordionist, who has fond memories of coming to the drive-in during her days at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin School. “We always came out here.”

Live performances are on the stage prior to the movies on Fridays and Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

“The line for the concession stand was out the door all night and that’s good to see,” Long said. “The only real money the theater makes is on concessions, so it was nice to see that. The crowd was amazing and it was a packed house.”

Lillian Long said she really enjoyed the second film, “Zootopia.”

Marxen said they like to keep it family-oriented fun, “the value really gives the

families a way to do something together without breaking the budget.”

“It is certainly amazing memory-building at its best,” Long said. “I hope and pray the Mayfield Road Drive-In is around so my children’s children can enjoy it.”

Advance tickets and reserved spots may be purchased online at www.funflick.com.