INDIANAPOLIS — At its peak, central Indiana had more than two dozen drive-in theaters. But over time, the crowds dwindled, the silver screens faded, and for many, the speakers fell silent.
Most of the once-vibrant outdoor cinemas fell into disrepair, and by 2007, just one drive-in theater remained in Indianapolis: the Tibbs Drive-In Theatre.
Its current owner has worked there since she was 14.
“This was actually my first job,” Marcella Snyder said. “Legally for sure, I had a work permit.”
Snyder wasn’t the only one in her family to work at the drive-in. She says her brothers also spent time working at Tibbs. “It just has a lot of nice cozy history in my family.”
The Tibbs Drive-In has been family-owned and-operated since it opened in June 1967. In 2019, Snyder added her name to the list of owners when she purchased the drive-in from Agnes and Ed Quilling in 2019.
“I had a close relationship with the previous owners, and they kind of set me up to purchase the business when I was in my late 20s,” Snyder said.
In the past few years, the drive-in has painted its screens, added new fencing, and converted double rows into single rows to accommodate larger vehicles.
“We have about 1,400 parking spaces, so we can carry about 2,800 to 3,000 people if we're at full capacity."
And keeping guests full is the mission of the full service concession stand, which has everything from popcorn to pizza. Oh, and the fan favorite, funnel fries.
Snyder says the drive-in experience beats that of traditional movie theaters.
“The feeling of being outside with thousands of your peers watching the same exciting movie, hearing all the gasps and the laughs and the screams if it's scary, it's just a bigger community experience than if you go to a regular indoor theater.”
The price is also hard to beat.
With adult tickets at $12 and $6 for kids, a family of four can get into the drive-in for under $40.
Snyder has advice for those trying to sneak in without paying.
“Unfortunately, people are not very good at being sneaky. Nine times out of 10, we catch them. If you try to sneak in the trunk, we will charge you double for the person who did sneak in,” Snyder said.
Snyder says that money (double ticket money too) goes back into the community.
“We are your friends and family. Every decision that we make has Indianapolis and the greater Indianapolis area in mind. It’s important to us to be a big part of the Indianapolis community.”
“It probably has a lot to do with property value and people aging out of the business,” Snyder said. “I think that as the generation that currently owns drive-ins moves into their golden years, they're looking more for retirement versus preservation of the drive-in. And just you can't build a drive-in anymore. It's too expensive.”