Eastern Washington’s last drive-in to close

The Spokesman-Review

Eastern Washington’s last remaining drive-in movie theater will close next year.

The owner of the Auto Vue Drive-In Theatre in Colville, Steve Wisner, recently announced the theater will show its last film Labor Day weekend.

It’s one of many independently owned drive-ins nationwide falling victim to technology as Hollywood makes the switch from 35-millimeter film to digital.

Despite good business over the years — the Auto Vue set a daily attendance record last year — Wisner said the $82,000 cost to upgrade to digital is too much.

There are six drive-in theaters left in Washington, including the Auto Vue. The Auto Vue, which opened in 1953 and will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2013, is the only drive-in open east of the mountains.

“If it was simply the love of money, there probably wouldn’t be a lot out there,” Wisner said. “If it was big revenue, you’d see the big boys in it. Drive-ins are too much trouble for those guys. It’s a very hard-earned business.”

Vogel said that although some drive-ins are closing, others are opening or being resurrected each year.

“I think there’s a fog out there right now for drive-ins, and I think that we’re going to get through it,” he said.

Studios save money using digital because they don’t have to ship heavy film reels around the country and to help defray the cost, they can pay owners a virtual print fee based on the number of times they show a film in digital format.

Loans also are available, but Wisner, who just upgraded the Alpine Theater, isn’t interested in taking on more debt.

While he said it’s strange to close the business after working at drive-ins his whole life, he has other plans: He’s considering growing hops on the 4 1/2 acres the theater now sits on.

“I found out they’re hard to kill,” he said. “They grow very well in this area.”