OAK HILL — A byproduct of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a renewed focus on outdoor entertainment options, which includes a feature that was once a staple of Americana — the drive-in theater.
Three Fayette County men ran with it 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 screenings of “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Ambulance.”
“It’s been a lifelong dream of about 25 years,” said Chuck Miller, who owns the theater 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 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 stirred things up was the Covid,” explained Tom Miller. “Since it started, we were definitely looking for something for people to do, and we kind of brainstormed together and it’s something (that they thought) ‘Now is the time to do it. ‘”
The 10-acre property was once used to store road material and scrapers and other equipment. Then a company bought it for storage before authorities decided to move out of state.
“It’s been 14 months straight,” Chuck Miller said. “We did all the earth work, all the excavation. We built the screen (40 feet high by 100 feet wide). We built the connex. We added to it as we went along.”
The menu for theatergoers includes hot wings, pizza, Philly cheesesteak, barbecue, and ice cream. And the menu’s main course features a feature selection that includes current offerings.
They recently added swing sets in the grounds so some guests can enjoy the movies outside of their car. “And now we’re trying a car show and a flea market to see how it goes,” Chuck Miller said. “As long as people come and keep supporting it, we’ll keep adding more.”
The auto show and flea market will likely be a specific event situation, rather than recurring. “Later on, we’d like to do more special events, like concerts and that kind of stuff,” Chuck Miller said. He noted that the facility could eventually develop more into a year-round event center. The property is large enough to “open up many more possibilities for expansion”.
The theater is in operation on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week. The expected start date each year will be around mid-March. “We want to run as far into the year as possible,” said Tom Miller.
Admission is $8 per person and children 5 and under are admitted free. “But you get two features for it,” Chuck Miller pointed out.
The theater can accommodate 450 vehicles, and there is a smaller area that provides room for around 25 vehicles side-by-side. With the property’s layout, drainage “isn’t an issue,” Chuck Miller said. “The next day you can’t even tell where (the vehicles) have been.”
The men have invested “considerable” funds in the project, according to Tom Miller. That includes a Christie laser projector that cost $130,000 and an FM transmitter that transmits on car stereos, his boredom noted. Starlite receives a cartridge containing film which is ingested into the projector. “A key is emailed, and it’s loaded onto a USB drive,” Chuck Miller said. “What it does is it locks and unlocks the movie for a period of time.”
Starlite has approximately 10 employees.
“Everybody in the community said, ‘Hey, we don’t have nothing to do,’ so we went out and we went out on a limb for something for Fayette County, for Oak Hill, and we just wanna to have people come out and support him,” Chuck Miller said. “The response has been really good.”
To find out more about the theatre, located at 3948 Lochgelly Road, visit Starlite Drive-In on Facebook or the company’s website at starlitewv.com.
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