OAK HILL — A by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a renewed emphasis on open-air entertainment options, which includes a feature that was once a staple of Americana — the drive-in movie theater.
Three Fayette County men have run with that and opened the Starlite Drive-In on Lochgelly Road. It joins the long-running Meadow Bridge Drive-In in Fayette County.
The Oak Hill theater opened in mid-June with showings of “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Ambulance.”
“This has been a lifelong dream of about 25 years,” said Chuck Miller, who owns the theater along with his partners, his brother, Tom Miller, and Teddy Gray, the latter of whom is Tom Miller’s brother-in-law. He said the trio discussed the fact that the property was available and speculated that a drive-in would be a good project. “We all agreed, and the rest is history. Fourteen months later, it’s a reality.”
“What really got it going was the Covid,” Tom Miller explained. “Since it set in, we were definitely looking for something for people to do, and we kind of put our heads together and this is something (that they thought) ‘Now is the time to do it.'”
The 10-acre property was formerly used to store road equipment and scrapers and other equipment. Then a company bought it for a warehouse before officials decided to relocate out of state.
“It’s been 14 months of non-stop,” said Chuck Miller. “We did all the dirt work, all the excavation. We built the screen (40 feet high by 100 feet wide). We built the conexes. We’ve been adding to it as we go.”
The menu for theater-goers includes hot wings, pizza, Philly cheese steak, barbecues and ice cream. And the menu’s main course boasts a selection of feature films which includes current offerings.
They have recently added swings on the grounds so some patrons can enjoy the movies outside of their cars. “And we’re trying a car show now and a flea market to see how that goes,” Chuck Miller said. “As long as people come and keep supporting it, we’ll keep adding on it.”
The car show and flea market will probably be a specific event situation, instead of recurring. “Later on, we’d like to do more special events, like concerts and that type of thing,” Chuck Miller said. He noted the facility could eventually morph more into an events center that is open year-round. The property is big enough to “open up a lot more opportunities for further expansion.”
The theater is in operation on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week. The expected starting date each year will be around mid-March. “We want to run as deep into the year as possible,” said Tom Miller.
Admission is $8 per person, and ages 5-and-under are admitted free. “But you get two features for that,” Chuck Miller stressed.
The theater can accommodate 450 vehicles, and there is a smaller area that offers room for about 25 side-by-sides. With the property set-up, drainage “is not an issue,” Chuck Miller said. “The next day, you can’t even tell where (vehicles) have been.”
The men have sunk “considerable” funding into the project, according to Tom Miller. That includes a Christie laser projector which cost $130,000 and an FM transmitter that transmits on car stereos, his bother noted. Starlite is sent a cartridge containing a movie which is ingested into the projector. “A key is sent to email, and that is loaded onto a thumb drive,” said Chuck Miller. “What that does is it locks and unlocks the movie for a certain amount of time.”
Starlite has about 10 employees.
“Everybody in the community said, ‘Hey, we don’t have anything to do,’ so we went out and we stepped out on a limb for something for Fayette County, for Oak Hill, and we’d just like to have people come and support it,” said Chuck Miller. “Response has been really good.”
For more on the theater, located at 3948 Lochgelly Road, visit Starlite Drive-In on Facebook or the company’s website at starlitewv.com.
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