End of the road for West Rome Drive-In

WHEN IT WAS FULL -- This file photo from 2012 shows the West Rome Drive-In on opening night. Davidson of Rome, the auto dealer that bought the site and opened its new dealership next door, announced today that the drive-in will close for good due to low attendance and rising costs. (Sentinel photo by Makenzi Enos)

The West Rome Drive-In has shown its last film due to "declining attendance and costly upgrades," announced owner Davidson Auto Group in a statement today.

Davidson of Rome bought the site in 2011, moving its car dealership to 5905 Rome-Taberg Road. There were two drive-in theater screens at the time, and the dealership reorganized the parcel to keep one open in the midst of an online effort by residents to retain the drive-in.

Davidson of Rome worked with Zurich Cinema Corp. to keep the West Rome Drive-In open "due to community interest in doing so," the statement noted. "They are pleased to have helped extend the life of the venue for two seasons."

When Davidson first announced it would buy two parcels totaling 14 acres from Zurich, social media exploded in support of the theater. A Facebook group was started; Save the West Rome Drive-In attracted 3,245 people. The outcry of support to keep it open resonated with Davidson officials, who modified the plan. The company revised the plan; the east side movie screen was torn down and the west side screen was relocated to the parcel's north side, far from the road.

The statement continued: "Unfortunately, the decline in attendance and the cost of the digital age has finally hit the West Rome Drive-In making it unrealistic to continue operation. Movie distributors will no longer provide first run 35mm film to theaters like the one in Rome. The cost of new equipment and a decline in attendance simply do not make continued operation feasible."

The West Rome Drive-In is another casualty in the decline of the drive-in business. It peaked in the 1960s, when it comprised 25 percent of all theater screens. Davidson noted. Now, drive-ins represent only 1.5 percent of movie screens.