Twin Hi-Way will join two others in West in a tough business

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The Twin Hi-Way will be the third drive-in theater in the western suburbs when it opens this spring, joining the Dependable in Moon and the Kane Road in Hopewell.

That doesn't worry Jerry Salnoris, president of the company formed to run the drive-in. "I've looked at the demographics," he said. "There's enough business there for all of us."

He also believes there is a resurgence of interest in drive-ins, part of a retro movement in America.

"People long for the times of long ago," he said. "Drive-ins are part of that nostalgia."

Rick Glaus, however, who owns the Dependable, is not so sure. "There are about 450 drive-ins in the United States, and more and more of them are closing," he said.

According to the United Drive-In Theater Owners' Association, there were 398 theaters with 651 screens as of August 2006, with the numbers showing a decline in the first few years of this decade -- from 447 theaters in 1999 to 401 in 2003 -- followed by a few years of relative stability.

Mr. Glaus said if there really was a strong resurgence, the major theater chains would be gobbling up the drive-in business the way they gobbled up the indoor theater business. "Don't you think it would be a heck of a lot cheaper for them to go out and build one if it was that profitable?" he asked.

Mr. Glaus said the Dependable survived the onslaught of the cineplexes in the '80s and '90s, and boasts a strong, habitual clientele. But he said profits from ticket sales are slim, and concessions are limited by the fact that people can, and do, bring in their own food.

"There's business there, if you own the property, and we have owned the property here for years."

Mr. Glaus said he's not terribly concerned about the Twin Hi-Way eating into his business, partly because he's not sure it can survive.

"Everyone in this business, who knows this business, looked at [re-opening the Twin Hi-Way] and walked away," he said.


-- By Brian David


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