It used to be a "go to" thing to do - let's take the family, the spouse, the date, or a group to a drive-in movie. Around America and around the world, this is almost a recreational thing of the past. There are drive-in options out there, but sadly, there are no drive-in theaters left in the Mohawk Valley.

During the 1960s and early to mid 1970s, there were at least seven drive-ins throughout the Mohawk Valley. Gone are the days of the Schuyler Drive-in, Marcy, New Hartford, The Valley, Richfield Springs, Little Falls, The Super 12, and the West Rome Drive-In. West Rome was the last to close, shutting down the outdoor movie theater in 2014.

At A Drive-In Theater
Getty Images

There are still about 30 drive-in movie theaters that remain open in New York State, including a few that are within driving distance from Utica-Rome.

The first drive-in theater opened on June 6, 1933 in Camden, New Jersey by Richard Hollingshead, a movie fan with a connection to the automotive world as he worked at his father's automotive company which was called Whiz Auto Products. He started testing his idea of an outdoor movie theater visible from the car in his driveway, according to He developed a speaker used for sound and designed a projector that worked in the outdoor format and patented the idea in 1932 and he developed the drive-in theater concept that we know today. His slogan was "The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are," and he called it the Automobile Movie Theatre.

Danish Drive-In
Getty Images
loading... says that from the late 1950s until the mid-1970s, there were more than 4000 drive-in movie theaters in the United States. Today, only about 350 of them remain and in New York, there are only about 30.

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The decline of the drive-in theatre started with the inception of daylight saving time in 1966. Because daylight saving time meant that In May, June and July sunset was near 9 p.m., movies weren't able to start until almost 9:30 p.m., which severely hurt business especially during the weekdays. The decline accelerated in the late 1980s and 90s, and ultimately the requirement to buy new digital equipment (a digital projector is more than $60,000 per screen) to be able to keep playing first-run movies put many of the movie lots out of business, the website claims.

There is an option.

The closest drive-in still operating is the El Rancho Drive-In in Palatine Bridge, off the Canajoharie exit of the New York State Thruway. It's about 50 minutes from Utica. The El Rancho is hoping for a mid-April opening, weather permitting. Admission for adults is $10, children 3-11 are $5 and under 2 are free. The snack bar serves popcorn, nachos, hot foods, ice cream, candy and drinks.

Promoting the 2023 season on the El Rancho Drive-In Facebook page
Promoting the 2023 season on the El Rancho Drive-In Facebook page

Which state has the most drive-in theaters? Believe it or not, it's New York State with around 30, according to the website. The largest drive-in is in Dearborn, MI which holds 3,000 cars. The United States has the most operational drive-ins with about 325 and Canada comes in as a distant second, with about 50 still in use.

Here are 25 drive-in theaters located in Upstate New York, according to

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