In Hermosa, which is about 18 miles south of Rapid City, Roy's Black Hills Drive-In didn't have to convert, because it opened late last summer and started as all digital. Owned by Roy Reitenbaugh, 62, the drive-in purchased two digital projectors for about $300,000, he said.
The theater operates daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and shows different double features on two separate, 80-foot-wide screens. Before and after the holidays, the drive-in shows movies two nights a week. Last year, it ran all the way until Sept. 13.
"Eventually they are going to pay for themselves, but it's not going to be an overnight thing," Reitenbaugh said, referring to the digital projectors.
The drive-in has attracted customers from South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming and averages 500 to 1,000 movie-goers during weekend showings.
Reitenbaugh said even though many drive-ins are closing, he took the risk because of some advice he received from a friend.
Gerald Bullard, who owns Geju Theatre Company, told Reitenbaugh it would be a "worthwhile investment to open a drive-in."
In Mitchell, Logan isn't willing to take the risk.
When he checked the cost to convert the Star Lite to digital, he found it would be about $70,000 for the projector. He said there are other costs that add up, such as installing an air-conditioner in the projection room to keep the unit cool.
Logan said news of others, like Reitenbaugh, using digital projection for a drive-in will not sway him.
"To me, it's a bad business decision," Logan said. "I wouldn't have done it, but he's trying it. The expense, with such a short season, it's still an iffy proposition."
Other drive-in owners around the state gave figures between $60,000 and $100,000 to switch from film to digital.
<'A community service'
In her 63rd year working at the drive-in, Betty Fast, of Winner, isn't jumping to any conclusions. The Winner Drive-In, which operates with 35 mm film, shows one movie Friday through Monday during the summer, and Fast plans to keep doing so until the film companies stop making film.
"It's pretty expensive for a drive-in to switch to digital for only three to four months of the year," she said.
The Winner Drive-In Facebook page has a link to a contest Honda has put together that could possibly save the theater. Honda, which designs digital projectors, has a month-long contest starting Aug. 9 in which five theaters across the country will receive new projectors. Each drive-in puts together a creative video explaining why it deserves a new projector and the top-five vote-getting videos receive new projectors.
Mobridge's Pheasant Drive-In also plans to enter the contest. Anyone can submit a vote starting Aug. 9 at projectdrivein.com.
"Of course we're going to have to switch to digital or quit," said Mobridge's owner, Ron Meyer.
Despite being 70 years old, Gallup, of Redfield, wants to stay in the drive-in business. He says it's "something that gets in your blood" and is important to the community of Redfield.
"I just don't understand it," he said. "There's nothing wrong with the system. The film isn't broken. It's worked for 100 years."
He's going to wait until the end of the summer to see if the film companies continue to make reels for his drive-in to show, but he added it's very possible his drive-in could close.
He admits switching from film to digital is a big investment of time and money, and the business has never been about making large amounts of money, anyway.
"It's more of a community service," Gallup said. "When you get to the end of the year, you hope you've paid the bills and you can supply your utilities over the winter. You hang in there and try to provide a community service because once it's gone, it's gone."
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