Sky View Drive-In

    • ss pittsburgh skyview
Like many people, Liz Walker’s life includes fond memories of seeing movies at a drive‐in. She believes it is an experience everyone should be able to enjoy, which is one reason she and husband Chuck purchased the SkyView Drive‐In located in Carmichaels, PA, in 2007.
 
“It’s partially nostalgia. I remember going to the Lima Drive‐In and seeing Burt Reynolds movies in the 1970’s. It was so much fun and we wanted to keep the SkyView open for a new generation to be able to see movies on a big screen at a drive‐in,” said Walker.
 
Drive‐in ownership came to the Walkers in a roundabout way. In 1999 Liz Walker took her two sons to see Mulan at the SkyView and noticed a help wanted sign. She was hired and Chuck became the drive‐in’s manager in 2001. When the SkyView’s owner decided to sell, Liz and Chuck, whose experience included managing the base movie theater while serving in the Air Force, bought the SkyView in 2007.
 
The Walkers bucked a trend in purchasing the SkyView. Once a staple of the American landscape, the number of drive-ins has decreased from over 4,000 in the 1950’s to 350 today, according to Drive-Ins.com. The SkyView Drive-In opened in 1946 and is both a local business and landmark. It is the only movie—drive-in or theater—in Greene County and attracts local patrons as well as those from throughout Western Pennsylvania, notably Washington County, and the Morgantown, W.V., area.
 
Open from mid-April through Labor Day, the SkyView has two screens. Family films ranging from Disney to Marvel Comics are the most popular features shown at SkyView. Walker explained that films are booked through a professional booking company, which can be a somewhat complicated process.
 
“It not only depends upon what films will be out and what we would like to play, but the studios decide what to offer us based upon our drive-in’s attendance numbers,” she said. “Opening the season in mid-April can boost numbers that help when it comes to getting access to new movies.”
 
For Liz and Chuck Walker, the SkyView Drive-In, which sits on nine-acres, is a business as well as a labor of love. Liz has a full-time job and Chuck is a school bus driver, which means he has time to devote to running the drive-in during the summer.
 
The biggest—and most expensive—challenge currently facing drive-in movie owners is Hollywood’s switch from 35mm films to digital versions. As a result, they must purchase digital projectors, which can cost between $50,000 and $70,000, in order to show new films. It is an expensive requirement that can challenge any theater owner.
 
“The studios have not set a drop dead date as to when they will stop making 35mm films and go completely digital. It’s still a guessing game, but it’s a question of converting or take a chance and not be able to get film,” said Walker.
 
The Walker’s needed to upgrade their equipment or be faced with closing their business. They came to the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for assistance with putting together a business plan and projections in order to seek funding.
 
The Walkers were able to raise $35,000 through fundraisers and were approved for a $50,000 Micro-Loan.