AURORA, Mo. – A part of Aurora history is up for grabs, as the Sunset Drive-In movie theater has hit the market with an asking price of $500,000.
The Sunset Drive-In opened in 1951 and has switched ownership a few times over the years. Current owner David L. Marks, 74, says he began working at the theater his senior year in high school in 1965. Marks’ grandfather also worked at the drive-in, and parked cars at the theater while his uncle ran the concession stand.
In 1971, Marks took ownership of an indoor theater in downtown Aurora, and eventually bought Sunset Drive-In as well in 1977. Marks let the indoor theater go in 1982 to focus on his main passion, the drive-in theater.
Marks told The Heartlander he’s only had one summer off since he began working at the drive-in almost 60 years ago. Due to cable television and VHS films, the drive-in took a major hit in 1987 and stayed closed for a year – until things picked back up in 1988.
Marks says he is still paying bills from that year’s media disaster, and that streaming services are the latest setback for movie theaters.
“Nobody’s gonna get rich [owning] the drive-in,” Marks said. “It’s just not one of those things. It takes the passion of someone wanting to keep something like this because, what I find, it is unique to have [the drive-in]. There are so few nationwide.”
According to Driveinmovie.com, there are only about 330 drive-in theaters still operating in the United States – 10 of them in Missouri. Marks says at one time, nearly every surrounding town had a drive-in theater, but the land there was worth more than the land in Aurora and was sold to make way for other things.
Although streaming is a hot commodity in today’s film world, Marks believes drive-in theaters could make a comeback as prices keep rising at indoor theaters for one feature, while drive-in theaters typically show double-features for a much smaller price.
Drive-in theaters provide a more personal and traditional experience than the typical indoor theater, Marks says. Sunset Drive-In opens every double-feature with a waving of the American flag while Dolly Parton’s version of the National Anthem seeps through outdoor speakers mounted around the vicinity.
What people love the most about the drive-in, he says, is how they used to come as a kid and can now bring their kids and grandkids to share the same experiences. He says he hopes the business will continue as a drive-in after selling, and says he is more than willing to show the new owners how things are run.
“I hate to see it go to anything else besides a drive-in.”