By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—Pam Friend has never even heard of the Trip Advisor. But travelers from across the United States and beyond have heard of Friend’s Star Drive-Inn Theatre (600 East Miami Rd.), thanks to the popular travel review web site.
The Star Drive-Inn Theatre is consistently rated as the top thing to do in Montrose by both travelers and visitors alike. Other top picks, in order of preference, include the Ute Indian Museum, Museum of the Mountain West, and Russell Stover Candy Factory.
A reviewer from Costa Mesa California sums up the Star Drive-Inn Theatre’s appeal.
“Can’t say enough it’s a drive-in!” the reviewer notes. “It’s something all generations can enjoy! Hope it never disappears like they have everywhere else in the world! We go every summer when we are in town visiting family.”
“I am not familiar with Trip Advisor at all,” said Friend, who also owns and operates a farm and produce stand in Olathe with her husband Richard. “I’ll be darned.”
While the Star Drive-Inn Theatre is not especially profitable—the largest percentage of film receipts go directly to the film companies, while the family’s returns come largely from concession sales— Friend believes that it is an important asset to the community.
“It’s a pride thing for me,” she said. “Mom and dad built it, and they loved it. They broke ground for the drive-in in 1949, and opened in April of 1950.
“And I really do enjoy seeing the people—it’s great to bring some form of entertainment to Montrose.” Friend still cuts all potatoes for the concession stands’ popular French fries by hand. The concession food is one of the things that consistently earns raves from Trip Advisor reviewers.
“We have hot dogs and fries, and of course your normal things like popcorn and candy, ice cream and drinks,” Friend said.
“We use our own home-grown onions and potatoes. I actually have people who don’t come to watch the movies—they tell us they just want to park outside and have dinner,” she said.
A community fundraising effort is currently underway to help the Star Drive-Inn Theater pay for the high costs of converting to a digital projection system. The campaign was started as a grassroots effort by local computer guru Chris Tolvo (Computer Business Solutions) of Montrose.
“The Star Drive-Inn is an important part of the nostalgia for on old town like Montrose,” Tolvo said. “Just about everybody has brought their kids here, and their children’s children.” The fundraising effort just hit $8,000 in donations, he noted, but the new system is expected to cost more than $100,000.
“People think that because Pam owns two businesses that she is making a profit,” Tolvo said.
“It’s important to realize that both of her businesses are seasonal.
“She needs out support,” he said. “It’s about people helping people.”
To learn more about efforts to save the Star Drive-Inn Theatre, visit the web site at http://www.stardrive-in.com/. For Jodi Shormann of Montrose ACT, the Star Drive-Inn Theatre is an essential part of Montrose’s charm.
“We send a lot of people to the DriveInn,” Shormann said. “It’s very close to so many hotels, and so many people have not even heard about it.
“I think it’s wonderful!”
One longtime local who has been to the Star Drive-Inn Theatre is Rich Fike, a lifelong history buff whose Museum of the Mountain West (68169 East Miami Road) is also among the Trip Advisor’s listing of the top three things to do in Montrose.
“We just took runner up in True West Magazine’s listing of the top Western Museums in the United States,” Fike said, “and I have been told we have the second largest collection of Western artifacts in the U.S., although I don’t know it is true. What I do know is we are doing very well.”
In the past week the Museum of the Mountain West has welcomed visitors from Amsterdam, Switzerland, and Belgium, Fike noted.
“We have folks from Rapid City here right now,” he said.
“We are seeing more visitors this year— we’re up about 25 percent.”
Fike believes that sites like Trip Advisor and Montrose ACT are important, but he has seen an increase in the number of drop -in visitors as well.
“This really has been an excellent summer,” he said. “I believe part of it is that we have completed the hotel—the Museum looks more permanent. People don’t just see a collection of buildings in a field, but a historic town.”