BY TIFFANY CUNNINGHAM
What comes to mind when you think of Drive-In Movies?
Most think of the good ole’ days of classic cars with lots of people piling out of the trunk, old movie screens with James Dean staring as the rebel and speakers attached to a post, outside of your car. Well folks, like everything else in this world, things have changed and been modernized and yet we all yearn for simpler times.
Lucky for us, Watertown’s Stardust Drive-In serves up the best of both worlds. And these days while Stardust Drive-In is buzzing with all the latest movies and is the place to be most weekends, it wasn’t that easy for owners Barry and Dawn Floyd to accomplish their dream of a state of the art Drive-In located in the Industrial Park, just off the main road leading into Watertown.
The couple first came up with the idea in 1999 while sitting at the closing of Sumner Drive-In located in Gallatin watching the movie, X-Files. Barry mentioned it might be fun to own a theater to which Dawn surprisingly agreed. Soonafter, they began to search the internet and spend their vacations going from Drive-In to Drive-In throughout the country, just to see if the idea was plausible. In 2000, they joined the National Drive-In Association and began purchasing equipment to learn the ins and outs of a projection room. Neither of them had been in the movie business before so it was a learning curve. Barry notes, “most owners are second or third generation where they have grown up in the business. We started out as complete newbies but I knew that we could figure out how it all worked.”
Through mentoring and research the pair felt comfortable enough by 2001 to purchase land. Barry was eagerly pursuing the dream but he neglected one detail in the whole process and that was zoning, when he purchased 12 acres of land on Carthage Highway in Lebanon. He recalls, “the way we chose where to place the theater is that we first looked at a 50 mile radius of our home in Nashville, and Lebanon was the spot we chose”.
Unfortunately his new neighbors did not greet him with enthusiasm. After several failed attempts, Barry and Dawn pulled their zoning request for the land they owned and instead discovered an actual Drive-In still intact, but grown over, already existed on Carthage Highway. That land had also been converted to farmland but since everything was intact, and that land owner was willing to rent his property, the couple tried one more time. Things again did not work out.
Barry was met with a news truck and protestors upon entering the courthouse. He now can chuckle about it but remembers thinking, on that day as he entered the building, “there must be something really big going on here today!” Little did he know he was the something BIG! He pulled his request for rezoning all together and went home to regroup.
All was not lost for the Floyd’s, however, as a phone call came in a few days later from Watertown Chamber President, Jeff Tunks. The County Attorney and Mayor of Watertown, Mike Jennings saw how eager the couple was to be a positive influence to the community and Watertown was willing to do what it took to have them in their community. After several meetings with town leaders it was decided that the industrial park was the only place that could hold the crowds and supply the electrical/ plumbing needs for the facility.
“The Watertown community went above and beyond in assisting us in making our dreams come true.” And in 2003 they purchased the land and construction began, the Floyd’s reminisce, “we don’t have our first dollar we made but we do have a spaghetti jar of dirt dug up the day we signed the papers on the land. Since that first day we have gotten to know our regulars and see them out in town, at Cub Scout meetings and church so it is great to have that connection with your customers that you would not get in a bigger town or city.”
Dawn goes on to say, “we always want our business to be a family friendly place where it is safe and fun. We want to be a draw, an attraction that brings people to the community so other businesses can also prosper. We hope if you come once you will want to come back again and again.” Barry believes once you see the a movie from the comfort of your car, on the 60 foot across and 4 story tall screen, you will be hooked, “nothing like seeing an alien life size, it’s amazing and the kids love it. I like to stand in the lobby and talk to the customers as they come through concessions and find out about their experience.”
The Stardust not only offers digital sound through the FM signal in your car, they have a brand new digital projection system imported from Germany and Belgium that gives them the ability to present a picture that is brighter, richer in colors, and has razor sharp focus. They are currently one of only two drive-ins in the state of Tennessee showing movies with digital projection, the other being the Montana Drive-in in Estill Springs.
They offer an outstanding concession stand that serves a whole meal not just your usual movie fare. It is a true family evening out, offering what Drive-In’s did in the past, just with some new fangled technology.
The Stardust Drive-in is open from the 1st weekend in March through the 2nd week of December. Their schedule varies:
March through Memorial Day they show double features on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights only. From Memorial Day to mid-August, the theater is open 7 nights a week. From mid-August through the second week in December, it’s back to weekends only. Movies begin at dusk usually no earlier than 7:30 p.m. and people are encouraged to come early to get the best parking spots and enjoy their dinner. Floyd reminds people they don’t want to miss his opening remarks before each showing because when the staff is notified of a special event you may just hear your name mentioned.
Tickets are $7.50 per person for ages 12 and over, $5 for ages 6-11 and children under 5 are always free. For more information about the Stardust and movie listings check out www.stardustdrivein.com or call (615) 237-0077. The Stardust is located on Tiger Drive-in Watertown, TN.
And if you happen to be “Around the Bend”, then you want to try Macon County’s Drive-In located in the heart of LaFayette. The Macon County Drive-In has a concession stand with your movie favorites like popcorn and sodas but also boasts specialties like tenderloin sandwiches and tater tots.
Contact the Macon County Drive-In by web at www.macondrive-in.com or by phone at (615) 666-4411.
The Drive-In is located at 3570 Scottsville Road in Lafayette, TN and is open for double features Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Their website is updated with their current releases.
The Macon Couty Drive-In also needs our help!! The Drive In, open since 1950, recently learned that at the end of 2013, film companies will no longer be making 35 mm films, forcing every theater to go digital. Going digital can cost upwards of $80,000 though. Honda is giving away 5 digital projectors and the Macon County Drive-In is asking us to all vote so that they might be one of the lucky winners!
You can vote everyday, once a day at http://ProjectDriveIn.com/vote_16 or you can text your vote to 444999VOTE16.
Let’s help our neighbors and vote and text today!!