Arizona’s boundless black dessert sky makes for an ideal drive-in movie setting—a business dependent on open spaces and dark nights. In the past, when Americans were moving west in station wagons, the state was home to more than fifty theaters with names like “The Cactus” and “The Golden Valley Drive-in.” Today, only the West Wind Glendale 9 remains in operation, but Dave Meyers has a plan to begin reviving the drive-in tradition in Arizona.
Meyers is a bit of an anomaly in the drive-in world, he boasts of no long family lineage in the theater business and as a millennial, drive-ins are not a part of the cherished memories of his youth; the town he grew up in “used to have one, but it closed a long time ago,” Meyers remembered. Most drive-in owners, especially young owners, inherit their theater, like Chip Sawyer at the Silver Moon Drive-in in Lakeland, Florida who took over his grandfather’s theater, or they’re baby boomers seeking to recreate the drive-in experience for a new generation. A different road lead Meyers to drive-ins and the difference in his perspective is apparent in his plan.
A New Vision for Drive-ins:
Scores of abandoned drive-in theaters sit beside America’s two-lane roads rotting into the ground, but Meyers isn’t interested in pulling back the weeds and trying to make a go of it in some new town, he wants to build a drive-in theater from scratch in his own rural community. Along with his wife and three-year-old Collie/Husky mix, Dave Meyers lives in central Arizona’s Verde Valley. His city of Cottonwood serves as a hub for the smaller towns in the valley but all together, the area’s population only adds up to about 80,000 people and one movie theater. Meyer’s views his drive-in plan as a way to create a new center for the community to gather around. He admitted to me that he “didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I want to own a movie theater,’ it’s not my passion.” Instead, he said, “I love the area that I live in and I want to give back to the community.”
Before committing to the theater idea, Meyers debated opening a bowling alley or a go-kart track. Ultimately, he decided to settle on a drive-in because it means he won’t have to build walls or pay to air condition a building, not an insignificant challenge in Arizona. It might seem odd, but Meyers has done his research, run the numbers, and he believes that a drive-in theater—a field that reached its peak in 1956 and has declined by 98% in the state of Arizona—is plain good business.
A 20th Century Start-Up:
“I love the area that I live in and I want to give back to the community.”
His plan is to buy a parcel of land in the Verde Valley and have the first screen open in March of 2021 (although, he would be happy to open sooner if anyone wanted to hand over a check). Over time, he’d like to add three more 60ft screens that can accommodate 250 cars each. Instead of a concession stand, he plans to use food trucks serving traditional movie snacks and more substantial meals. “I’d be happy if people just came for the food,” he said. First and foremost, Meyers wants his drive-in to be family-friendly, a place where his whole community can gather.
Recently, Meyers pitched his idea in a mini Shark Tank-style competition with twenty other Arizona entrepreneurs and wasn’t selected, but he does have pitch video with over a thousand views on Facebook. “I’ve gotten all positive responses from the video,” he said. Now he’s looking for funding in Sedona and considering a crowdfunding initiative to raise the initial capital.
It’s clear from talking to Meyers that he’s thought out his plan—he’s researched coding regulations on light pollution, connected with other business women and men trying to start new drive-ins, and analyzed failed attempts to build new theaters—but he becomes most animated when speaking about his community and his passion to bring folks together in a real, physical space. “I’m not going to sell the land in five years to make more money and I’m OK taking lower profits to ensure the theater’s success. People need to reconnect with their communities. I want to create a space to do that.”
To learn more about the Verde Drive-in and follow the project, click here: https://www.facebook.com/VerdeDriveIn/