Fans rally to save Star­lite Drive-In

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Obituaries - BY CHANCE SWAIM

If enough peo­ple show that they care, maybe the owner of the Star­lite Drive-In will change his mind.

Maybe the de­vel­op­ers he’s ru­mored to be deal­ing with will back out.

Maybe Star­lite can be saved.

Maybe.

That’s all the hope po­ten­tial buyer and NewYork-based drive-in the­ater owner Rick Co­hen could of­fer peo­ple hop­ing to keep the 65-year-old the­ater around.

“There isn’t a lot that I can say,” Co­hen told a crowd of about 100 peo­ple ral­ly­ing on Satur­day af­ter­noon at a park be­hind the the­ater, shar­ing mem­o­ries and hop­ing some­one out there will lis­ten.

“I have com­mu­ni­ca­tion with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the owner, and we are try­ing to see if there’s some­thing we can do,” Co­hen said.

“There’s still time — there’s not a lot of time — but there’s still time to re­verse the di­rec­tion,” Co­hen said.

Co­hen said what­ever hap­pens in the next 10 days will de­cide the fu­ture of the Star­lite Drive-In. On Nov. 13, a liq­ui­da­tion auc­tion of the drive-in the­ater is sched­uled.

“If that auc­tion takes place, I’m not go­ing to be able to save the drive-in af­ter that,” Co­hen said.

A group of peo­ple, led by rel­a­tives of long­time the­ater man­ager Jim Quick, and Co­hen, who trav­eled to Wi­chita from Buf­falo on Satur­day, tried to rally enough sup­port from the com­mu­nity to con­vince the owner not to sell and the ru­mored buyer not to re­de­velop the the­ater into some­thing other than a drive-in.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Jim Quick’s daugh­ter, Beth.

Chuck Bucin­ski, who was left the drive-in the­ater by pre­vi­ous owner Jim Goble through his will two years ago, sent a let­ter to em­ploy­ees last month an­nounc­ing the clo­sure, cit­ing de­clin­ing at­ten­dance, in­creased film rentals and higher main­te­nance costs as rea­sons for clos­ing.

“I’ve seen the num­bers,” Co­hen said, “and this drive-in had no prob­lem mak­ing money.”

But Co­hen, who owns a drive-in the­ater in New York, said that he’s not in it for the money.

“I want to save Star­lite be­cause Jim Goble was my friend, and he wanted it to stay open for­ever,” Co­hen said.

Co­hen said the Star­lite is “the envy of the coun­try” when it comes to drive-ins, and that he’s not look­ing to buy any other the­aters.

If Co­hen gets Star­lite, he said he’ll put a re­stric­tion on the deed re­quir­ing it to re­main a drive-in the­ater.

Gen­er­a­tions of Star­lite fans and for­mer em­ploy­ees took turns step­ping up to a mi­cro­phone and shar­ing mem­o­ries of the drivein the­ater and rea­sons it shouldn’t go.

Some worry clos­ing Star­lite will take away one of the few af­ford­able op­tions for large fam­i­lies who want to spend time to­gether. Oth­ers think Star­lite pro­vides a sense of com­mu­nity and a shared cul­tural land­mark that spans gen­er­a­tions.

“We’re los­ing some­thing po­ten­tially that is so valu­able for our kids,” said Jen­nifer White of Wi­chita. “To learn how to be in a com­mu­nity with each other and how to run around and play and get dirty and be silly and be too loud for the the­ater and be ornery and be a pain in the butt, be­cause they’re kids.

“That’s what we’re po­ten­tially los­ing with this, and that’s what we have to fight for.”

Oth­ers la­mented the clos­ings of sev­eral fam­i­lyfriendly places in the Wi­chita area, from Joy­land to Lawrence Du­mont to the Palace West The­ater.

“We want to let these de­vel­op­ers know that we want them to stop tak­ing things way,” said Ma­bel Pfan­nen­stiel of Wi­chita. “I love Star­lite Drive-In. Star­lite is one of the few places where you can just be your­self.”

“There are plenty of other places to de­velop a ware­house or a strip mall,” Co­hen said. “But what Wi­chita has here is some­thing spe­cial and unique, and if it goes away, it’ll never come back.”

Chance Swaim: 316-206-3666, @byChanceSwaim

TRAVIS HEYING The Wi­chita Ea­gle

Hadley White, 10, holds up a sign at a rally to save the Star­lite Drive-in on Satur­day.

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