Drive-in to reopen in February

Wichita's Starlite Drive-in revived after closing last fall

Claire Conover and Addy Porter

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When the Starlite Drive-in closed Oct. 16, many Wichita natives were disappointed to see it go.

“When I was little, I would go to the drive-in with my folks so part of it was nostalgia to do the same thing with my kids,’” said English teacher Angie Etheredge. “I would put all my kids in the car and we would go together.”

The drive-in had been a place for families and friends to go since it opened as the Rainbow Drive-in in 1953.

“I enjoyed going with my dad when I was little because he was always working,” junior Maddie Speed said. “We would go on Friday nights when he got off and it was one of my favorite memories going there.”

Starlite closed due to declining attendance and the rising cost of maintenance.

“With declining attendance, increased film rentals, and higher maintenance costs, and after getting advice from my accountant and my attorney, I had to make this difficult decision,” said previous owner Chuck Businski, in a Wichita Eagle article Oct. 16.

After it closed, there were plans to redevelop the land, until a Wichita local, who wishes to stay anonymous, stepped up to buy the land, and save the Starlite Drive-In, said Landmark Commercial Real Estate agent Mark Knowles, in the Wichita Eagle article.

“It is the right deal, at the right time, with the absolute right thing to do for Wichita,” a news release from the Starlite Drive-in said.

Knowles and City Council member James Clendenin had contacted Tulsa drive-in owner Blake Smith to see if he would be interested in running the Starlite Drive-in, said Knowles, in the article.

“It was a ‘yes’ on all sides,” Businski said in a press release. “Everybody just did what was best for Wichita and I’m thrilled.”

Smith has plans to reopen it in February, as long as he can get two new digital projectors, which will cost at least $175,000. Clendenin has proposed a $200,000 loan to the drive-in so they can purchase new projectors.

“Well, I didn’t know that they were [closing], so when it popped up and said ‘That was our last season, thanks for everything!’” Etheredge said. “I was shocked. It caught me off-guard.”

Each City Council member was given $1 million to use for their district, and according to Clendenin, he had exactly $200,000 left.

“The Starlite theater is probably the No. 1 quality-of-life entertainment establishment in south Wichita,” said Clendenin in the article. “In an area of town that is declining in many ways, this was an amazing quality of life that is woven into the fabric of the neighborhood, the area and our city.”

Sophomore Bridget Moege said she is glad the drive-in will reopen.

“When I heard about it opening again, I was so excited,” Moege said. “I immediately texted my friends and we already have plans to go again.”

Businski, Smith and Clendenin could not be reached for comment.