Tibbs Drive-In needs votes for projector

INDIANAPOLIS - Experts estimate that at one time more than 4,000 drive-in movie theaters dotted the American landscape.

Now, only 400 remain – with just 20 operating in Indiana.

One of the remaining Hoosier locations, Tibbs Drive-In on Indianapolis' west side, is among a handful hoping to win a contest to buy a new digital projector.

The transition from film to digital – at a $50,000-$80,000 price tag – has been credited for the decline of the drive-in along with new ways to watch movies at home: DVDs, Netflix, on-demand movies, etc.

Honda's Project Drive-In will give the five theaters with the most votes digital projectors. With four large screens at the west Indianapolis location, the Tibbs are campaigning for votes to win one of the four projectors they need.

In Shelbyville, the owners of the Skyline Drive-In have raised about a third of the cost needed to replace their projectors. They say they'll take out loans if they have to, but predict that other owners may have to close down.

"We're going to lose more [theaters] through this digital conversion, because not everybody is going to be able to do it," said Skyline co-owner Joe Gaudin.

"It would be very sad if years down the road people didn't have a drive-in somewhere they could drive to so they can share what they remember with their kids," Gaudin added.

Chris and Katie Lally agree. Drive-ins have been a part of many of the key moments in their relationship.

"Our first date was at a drive in," Lally said. "I proposed to her at a drive-in."

Gaudin said stories like the Lally's aren't uncommon.

"Like Shelbyville, and Tibbs, that have that great community bond they've built over 50 years … to see those go would be very sad and disappointing to everybody who goes to them," Gaudin said.

Honda's Project Drive-In wraps up Monday, and Tibbs is looking for all the last-minute help it can get. To cast your vote, visit http://projectdrivein.com .

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