Sunset Auto Theatre - Hartford MI

Address: 69017 Red Arrow Hwy
City: Hartford
State: MI
Zip: 49057
County: Van Buren
Owner History:
Theater Type: N/A
Number of visits to this page: 24141

Please note that location entries may feature older photos or post card views that may not represent the current appearance, features, addresses, phone numbers, or contact names of the attraction. This site is intended to be a historical as well as current record of various attractions but it is not always possible to have up-to-date information due to the vast number of locations featured here. We ask you consult the propietor for current information.

General Information:

This small town drive-in has been going since 1948 which makes it one of the longest-running theaters in the state.

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Info Updates:
5/19/2012 - Monica
Went there may 11th Saturday nite 2012 Avengers and Jon Carter. Last weekend was Avengers and something else. This weekend may 18 is Avengers and American reunion. Ok I want to go again. but at 15. 00 a car load I do wish to see the avengers again and again. ok already. The place is nice and clean. Good food and prices are better than the big theaters.
3/28/2009 - The Rogers
We love jumping in the car with our little dog and catching 2 flicks at a time! Sure looking forward to 2009 season and hope you stay open a LONG time.
6/12/2008 - Kalamazoo Gazette
Breaking down southwest Michigan's drive-in theaters by John Liberty and James Sanford | Kalamazoo Gazette Thursday June 12, 2008, 10:11 AM Nostalgia, upgrades help keep Sunset Drive-In rolling six decades later Note: This is the first in a three-part series looking at Southwest Michigan's drive-in theaters. This summer marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the nation's first drive-in theater in Camden, N.J. It's also the 70th anniversary of the first Michigan drive-in theater, the Eastside Drive-In Theater in Harper Woods, which opened May 26, 1938, and closed in 1977. Today, there are nearly 400 theaters across the country and 10 permanent theaters in the state. HARTFORD -- Probably Glenda Edwards' favorite story since taking over the Sunset Drive-In in Hartford five years ago occurred during her first summer of business. An older man was hurriedly walking around sections of the seven-acre property, closely inspecting a number of poles that marked each parking spot. When she met up with the man, he demanded his money back. No matter where he went, none of the posts produced sound for the movie, he said. He had walked from post to post trying to hear the movie, but what he didn't know, and what Edwards told him, was that her drive-in theater no longer uses speakers attached to poles to project audio. Instead, patrons tune their car radios to a specific radio station, and the movie's audio pipes through the speakers. After showing him how it worked, Edwards gave the man his money back. It made an impression. "He was a regular for the rest of the season," said Edwards, who owns the Sunset Drive-In and the Five-Mile Drive-In in Dowagiac with her husband, Neal. For all the changes to the Sunset since it opened in 1948, it maintains the nostalgic simplicity that has helped drive-in theaters hang around despite being dwarfed by multi-screen cinemas with state-of-the-art sound, digital projection and wallet-busting prices. There are three drive-ins in Southwest Michigan, 10 in the state and nearly 400 around the country. In Michigan, 149 drive-ins have closed, but the Sunset keeps rolling. A-ONE SERVICE It's $12 per carload at the Sunset and it's also a concession lover's dream come true: a large popcorn for only $3.25, a large drink for $2.50 and chili dogs for $1.85. Even more surprising: The food is delicious. The service is also speedy. The Sunset staff is broken down into order-takers, "runners" (who prepare the food or pour the drinks) and cashiers, which ensures the lines move smoothly and steadily. "You have to have teamwork to get it done, especially when we're busy," said Alicia Roskoski, who usually works at the Five-Mile Drive-In in Dowagiac but was moonlighting at Sunset to help out. By day, she's a salesperson at Bath & Body Works in Benton Harbor, but on weekend nights Roskoski can be found serving up snacks. The 22-year-old from St. Joseph has been working drive-in concession counters for three years now. "It's just a fun crowd," she said of the drive-in patrons. "It's not really work, and the time goes by fast when we're busy." Co-workers Becky DeLoach, 12, and Emily McGrew, 14, agreed. Don't let their ages fool you: They've been helping out at the Sunset since 2003. "It's something to do on weekends," Becky said, glancing over at the steaming popcorn popper. "Yeah, it keeps us out of trouble," Emily agreed. One downside of concession work: You don't get to see the show. Roskoski said the owners will sometimes run a film on a Thursday night to check the print before showing it to a paying audience, "so I see maybe one movie a year." Edwards said she has nothing but the highest praise for her concession people. "These kids have worked together for a long time and they do a great job," she said. "They screw around, but when they need to work, they work." They also show up on time -- for their own good. "The last one in has to clean the bathrooms," Edwards explained with a chuckle, "so you can bet they're on time!" STAYING POWER While many drive-ins have come and gone, the Sunset is celebrating its 60th year in business. Edwards thinks she knows the secret of the drive-in's success. "The appeal is that people have more choices here" than they do in a standard movie theater, she said. "You can sit outside the car and chit-chat if you want to. Parents can watch the kids run around." Much like Tony Griffith of Hartford, who visits Sunset with his wife and his three kids between 10 and 12 times a summer, he said. On May 23, their first stop of the summer, they picked up a couple pizzas, pulled into their spot front-and-center in the second row and let the kids play on the playground beneath the 60-foot-by-40-foot screen until the credits started. For the price, you can't beat it, said Griffith, 37. "It's a lot cheaper than going to the walk-ins," said Griffith, who also went to Sunset as a kid. Edwards says repeat customers also play a key role in sustaining the business. "Many people will say to me, 'You know, I've never been to a drive-in before.' And then once they come out here, they're hooked." ALL IN THE FAMILY Getting hooked on drive-ins, in particular the Sunset, is a family trait of sorts for Edwards. When Glenda and Neal started dating in the mid-'70s, they frequently went to Sunset. Edward's mother, 74-year-old Audrey Wilson, never allowed her daughter to stay through a whole movie because it ended too late for curfew, she said from the small booth at the theater's front gate where she has collected entrance fees since 2003. "She was awfully young," Wilson said. "I could've been 25 and she'd make me come home early," Edwards said. Of course Wilson knew all about Sunset. She started coming to the Hartford drive-in during the late '40s and early '50s. She also went on dates there before getting married in 1951. She is now divorced, but she enjoys coming to the theater to work three nights a week. "I can't wait for it to open up (every summer) so I can visit with people. ... Half of Hartford is my family," Wilson said. "She keeps them all in line," Edwards said. Edwards said she bought Sunset with her husband, in part, to give their daughters something to do. "It got bigger than we thought," she said. While they started cleaning up the theater after buying it five years ago, the couple asked family members to help. Turns out, almost all of them went on dates at the same drive-in. Her family members then shared their make-out stories. "It was awful," Edwards said. "I didn't want to hear that." Although her daughters have "grown up and moved on," the Sunset is still in the family. They've renovated it -- upgrading the projector and painting the screen recently -- and more people, new generations, are stopping by to see a flick at Sunset, which has been open every season since 1948. "People have given up on them (drive-ins) over the years, but you put something into them, they start coming back. It's like watering a plant," Edwards said.
7/31/2007 - Phil
I used to work at this theatre back in the 70's when the owners were the same folks who owned the drive-in just outside of Dowagiac. Jeff and Terri were their names. I am extremely happy that this theatre is still operating. Had some great times there. Namaste. Phil
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