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Ruskin Family Drive-In survives thinning crowds and shrinking profits to deliver movie magic

Ruskin is home to one of Florida's last drive-ins
Posted: 3:13 AM, Feb 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-25 10:38:03Z
Ruskin Family Drive-In Theater

RUSKIN, Fla. — Ted Freiwald helped build the Ruskin Family Drive-In in 1952.

He pretty much never left.

Freiwald grew up at the drive-in. He fell in love at the concession stand. Now the 86-year-old theater owner and his 62-year-old wife, Karen, keep this historic place open seven days a week.

But it’s getting tougher.

“Generations are growing up that don’t go to drive-ins and they don’t know that much about drive-ins,” says Ted. “We have people that come in here and say, ‘What do we do?’”

There used to be hundreds of drive-in theaters in Florida. There are now fewer than ten.

Multiplexes, Netflix, technology and time helped all helped thin crowds and profits at drive-ins.

There is no Bluetooth or fancy surround sound at the Ruskin outdoor theater. There are only those clunky vintage speakers that hang in your car and broadcast an FM signal.

A few years ago the Freiwalds spent $150,000 on a digital film projector so they could show the newest family-friendly movies.

That hurt. But when Ted sees families still having fun and being together at his movies, he knows he’s doing the right thing keeping the drive-in open.

“You can come in here and you can back up your SUV to the posts, and put chairs out,” says Ted. “Kids are playing. It’s nice to see.”

The drive-in is also a great bargain for familes. Tickets are is just $6 for adults and $1 for kids ages 5-8. A small popcorn costs only $2.50. The multiplexes cannot meet those prices.

For a list of movies playing at the Ruskin Family Drive-In, visit ruskinfamilydrivein.com.