The West Wind Drive-In Theater and Public Market located at 555 El Rancho Drive just reopened for the season and is continuing to show box office hits seven days a week. On top of that, the El Rancho West Wind is offering free movie night on April 19 showing the films Coco, Peter Rabbit, Jumanji, and Pitch Perfect.
Gates open at 6 p.m. and kids can play in bounce houses, partake in face painting, enjoy music, and feast on dollar nachos before the sun goes down and the screens light up. This is the 10th anniversary of West Wind’s free movie nights and is a great way to become acclimated to the drive-in movie experience.
West Wind Drive-In opened its first movie theater in 1952 and opened its Sparks location in 1971. Managing seven drive-in theatres in Arizona, California, and Nevada, West Wind noticed a resurgence in the popularity of drive-in theatres especially during the recession as people were looking for budget-friendly experiences. With the advent of new technology and digital features in vehicles and movie screens, West Wind renovated and even reopened some of its properties to keep the old-school tradition (along with modern comfort) alive.
“There was a period of time when drive-ins were more popular than walk-in theatres,” says West Wind VP of Marketing Tony Maniscalco. However, as the demand for drive-ins dwindled, many properties were converted into walk-in theatres or shopping centers. The owners of many of the theatres, Syufy Enterprises, sold a lot of its walk-in’s to Cinemark yet kept its drive-in movie chain.
“People kind of ignore drive-ins but then we revitalized them- we integrated a new wireless car stereo speaker system, got new screens and new projectors. In 2008 when the economy tanked, people were looking for affordable entertainment,” says Maniscalco.
“It’s $7.50 for an adult, $1.50 for a kid ages 5-11, and free for kids ages four and under. So a family of four can watch a double-feature for under $20,” says West Wind Marketing Director Pia Nepomuceno. Going to the drive-in is great for families for young kids because if a couple can’t find a babysitter then they can put them to bed in the backseat and enjoy an adult-rated film.
“We see kids in their pajamas with popcorn in their hands all the time,” Nepomuceno says. Crying babies are welcomed and cell phone usage is allowed because you are in your own car out of earshot of others.
Maniscalco says that the company’s drive-in success is largely due to its well-run operations and word-of-mouth. Moms tell other moms or go on a free movie night and are hooked.
“I grew up going to the drive-in so I kind of bought into the culture. It’s a different experience, and fun to hang out with your family and friends,” says Nepomuceno.
“I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey at a drive-in theater after it came out in the walk-in theaters, but now we show the same movies that you would see in a walk-in theater at the time of their release,” says Maniscalco. “(Going to a modern drive-in) has an old-school, county fair vibe with an amazing projector. A lot of cars have good stereos and you can relax in your own space.”
Diego Maldonado has been the general manager at the Sparks’ West Wind location for 10 years and has seen thousands of movies during tenure. Maldonado says that currently his favorite movie is Black Panther, now being shown on West Wind’s screens.
“My favorite part of this job is dealing with the families. I’ve seen a lot of kids grow up here and then they come back with their own families. We’re open every day and show double features- ‘A’ movies that have just come out and ‘B’ movies that have been out for a couple of weeks,” he says.
The Sparks drive-in is open seven nights a week, rain or stars, and movies start a half-hour after dusk. And don’t forget- April 19 is free family movie night at the Sparks West Wind Drive-In on El Rancho Drive. For more information, visit www.westwinddi.com.