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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Transit Drive-In owner Rick Cohen will walk this route in hopes of
raising enough money for an Ohio drive-in to buy a digital
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Rick Cohen is walking 1,034 miles from Kissimmee, Fla. to Camden, N.J.

Cohen, the owner of the Transit Drive-In Theatre, is undertaking this backpacking adventure in order to raise awareness for the plight of the drive-in industry — and funds for a small Ohio drive-in in need.

Beginning on Saturday, he will begin the 1,034 miles trek from Kissimmee, Fla., the site of the annual UDITOA Drive-In Owners Convention — which he is currently attending — to Camden, N.J., where the world's first drive-in opened on June 6, 1933. The backpacking journey is expected to take as long as six weeks.

"I plan to pretty much walk between 20 to 30 miles per day depending on weather conditions and how I'm feeling," Cohen said. "It's going to be a little bit of an adventure."

“Over the years, I have witnessed many drive-in theaters close and be sold for development, or sit unused and forgotten,” Cohen said. “Hundreds and thousands of drive-ins have closed around the United States over the past several decades, with the property they sit on being redeveloped for ‘higher uses.’ The most recent upswing in drive-in related sales and closures is being facilitated by a different and more alarming reason.”

As if seasonal drive-in theatres didn't already have enough going against them, technological changes in the way new movies are shown on their screens is requiring all theatres to replace 35mm projectors with expensive digital equipment, at a cost of roughly $75,000 per screen. Drive-ins which cannot financially afford the transition are being forced to go dark.

“I am very fortunate in that my drive-in is located in region with a population base large enough to support the investment, which for us was an outlay of $300,000 for all four of our screens in 2012,” Cohen said. “Drive-ins located in rural, less densely populated areas are having a much more difficult time.”

In the entire United States, the number of operational drive-ins at the end of 2014 fell to around 330 locations, down from around 350 sites only one year earlier. More family owned, rural drive-ins are expected to close over the next few years, as the supply of 35mm prints from the movie studios is gradually discontinued in favor of digital technology which they can't afford to purchase on their own.

“I am stepping up to help one of these drive-ins buy a new digital projector, so they can continue to provide the outdoor movie experience for their community,” Cohen explained. “The first drive-in which I have chosen to help make the conversion to digital is called the Auto-Vue, a single screen, family owned drive-in theatre located in Sidney, Ohio, which has been in continual operation each summer since 1956. Without financial assistance to make the transition to digital technology, this drive-in will eventually go dark.”

Cohen plans to raise enough through contributions to fund the Auto-Vue upgrade. But he hopes to raise more. Any funds which exceed the goal will go toward assisting additional drive-ins to make the conversion to digital.

“My goal is to raise enough money to assist at least one small-town, mom-and-pop drive-in to remain open, while at the same time raising national awareness about the difficulty which many rural, small town drive-ins are facing to survive,” Cohen said. “While I will technically be walking 1,034 miles by myself through nine east coast states, I will not be alone in spirit. The ghosts from thousands of closed American drive-in theatres and the memories of the people who miss them will be walking right beside me, along with the hopes of all the other small town drive-ins still struggling to keep their own big screen alive.”

Cohen has created a website,, where he will share his travels and allow for the public to make donations. He plans on making daily updates to allow others to see the progress he has made on both fronts, and allow him to share his thoughts — and some photos — along the 1,034-mile walk.

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