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Arts & Culture

Idaho Moviegoers Drive-In For A Night Out In Parma

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Troy Oppie
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Parma's Motor-Vu Drive-in, early on a Sunday night.

Most of the nation’s more than 5,500 indoor theaters have been closed since Mid-March. But with a little gas in the tank, you can still have a night out at a movie in southwest Idaho. It's a throw-back for some to the late 1950s, when the number of drive-in theaters peaked at nearly 4,500.

 

 

That’s the era depicted in the 1978 hit movie Grease, where John Travolta, as Danny, makes his move on Sandy, played by Olivia Newton John in his convertible and it ends, well, poorly.

 

"You think I’m just going to sit here in this sin wagon?" she exclaims after slamming the car door and storming off. "You can’t just walk out of a drive-in!” Travolta yells after her. 

 

Spoiler alert: she did.

 

Driving about 45 miles west of Boise, past still-sprouting farmland, hop trellises and plenty of cows, you can get to one of Idaho’s six remaining drive-in theaters. There are only 305 left nationwide.

 

Susan Haaheim is the third-generation owner of the Parma Motor Vu Theater, which goes back to 1953. The technology used to play the movies is different today, but the layout hasn’t changed much. Cars still park on sloped up spots marked by metal posts where speakers used to hang. Movie sounds come on a localized FM radio frequency these days.

Inside the snack shack, the legendary original popcorn machine hasn’t cooled down at all. 

 

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Credit Troy Oppie / Boise State Public Radio
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Boise State Public Radio
Karen Cornwell, second-generation owner of the Motor Vu Drive-in works the popcorn machine. It dates to the original opening of the Parma Drive-in in 1953.

Haaheim opened this season April 24, about a month later than originally planned. That first weekend, they were turning people away on the highway.

"Obviously a great start with all the people wanting to get out of their houses and do something a little bit normal,” she said. Crowds have thinned a little since, with about half the approximately 200 spots available on a recent Sunday night.

 

The theater has made some changes to meet safety recommendations, too. The concessions menu is limited to packaged candy and food, and customer interactions were moved outside. Restrooms remain open and patrons roamed around munching popcorn and getting cars setup for comfortable movie watching.

 

Ryan and April, who didn’t give last names, came over from Boise for a date and bundled in sleeping bags and blankets in the back of a pickup truck.

 

“We both love movies," Ryan said. "It’s fun to come out and do this, especially when you can have your own space.”

 

Drive-ins across the country have been seeing higher-than-normal crowds as people look for activities they can do safely. But it might not stay that way. Many summer blockbusters have been delayed or released directly to streaming platforms. That worries Haaheim because those movies drive attendance.

 

“We’ll survive," she said. "We’ll just be excited for when things get back to normal and we have to decide which big movie to bring in because we can’t play them all.”

 

Double features run Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in Parma. 

 

Caldwell’s drive-in, The Terrace, has not yet opened for the season. Its owners couldn’t be reached for this story.

 

Editor's note: The reporter's family accompanied him to the ParmaVu as he reported this story. The family paid all costs for admission and snacks.

 

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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