Haar’s Drive-In Theater Faces Dusky Future

By Jeff Falk

Which is more important, future progress or past memories?
Which is more important, money or families spending quality time together?

Which is more important, the good of the few or the needs of the many?

Which is more important, practicality or sentimentality?

All four are ideological questions which our society faces on a daily basis. There are no right or wrong answers, just one big area of gray and values and perspectives.

For almost 70 years, Haar’s Drive-In in Dillsburg has survived and thrived when other drive-in movie theaters have fallen by the wayside. Now the same societal effects that once felled its sister-businesses are putting Haar’s in a similar danger.

It may be the ground at 185 Logan Road – or Route 15 North – is worth more than the business it supports.

“In 2003, my family sold the ground that the drive-in is located on,” says Vickie Hardy, President of Haar’s Inc. “That’s when we started leasing the ground. In January of this year, we noticed someone put a for-sale sign on the property. We were shocked. We’re doing everything we can to keep the business going as long as we can. We’re not the ones selling it. We have nothing to do with that.”

Currently, Hardy, the grand-daughter of Haar’s Drive-In founder Vance Haar, and the rest of the management of the third-generation, family-operated business is preparing for the opening of the summer season, despite the ominous for-sale sign and the uncertainties of the Coronavirus crisis. The family believed they would be given a six-month notice before the property was put on the market.

“We’re moving along with the times,” says Hardy. “We’re going to start on-line ticket sales and food orders. We want to keep the Haar’s Drive-In business going as a family unit. We do plan to continue to provide cost-effective family entertainment for as long as we possibly can.

“We’ve started the planning process for the upcoming season,” Hardy adds. “We have a whole bunch of guidelines to follow (related to COVID-19). When we do open up, it will be at half-capacity. We may open up extra days to accommodate that. If people aren’t working as much as they once did, they might have an extra week-night off. But are they going to have the money? I’m still hopeful and confident we’re going to have a good season.”

About a 20-minute drive from Harrisburg, Haar’s Drive-In is a left-over from simpler times. During the summer months of June, July and August, Haar’s has become a local destination for families seeking wholesome entertainment at a reasonable price.

Double features, priced at $8 for adults and $3 for children under 12, are shown on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Concessions are reasonably priced, but the warm evening breeze, ambiance and star-lit skies are free.

“There’s nothing at all like it,” says Hardy. “Because we work so much and we don’t get to enjoy it, what we do as a family is we’ll close the theater, we’ll take a night and have a private drive-in night. With the cool breeze blowing across your face, it’s so nice. It’s priceless.

“People might be stuck in small confined areas at home,” says Hardy. “If you like to go out, a drive-in movie is a great place to go. There are a lot more confined living spaces now. If you go to an indoor theater, you’re still confined. But it’s not just the movie you’re watching, it’s also the actual experience.”

Drive-in movie theaters first appeared on the American landscape in the 1930s, and during their heydays of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, locally-supported drive-in theaters in and around the Harrisburg Area were plentiful. But in the 1990s, local drive-in theaters began to go away and the spaces they were once situated on were developed.

 But because of the commitment of the Haar family and the continued support of its local community, Haar’s Drive-In has endured. Currently, Cumberland Drive-In Theater in Newville, Sky Vu Drive-In Theater in Gratz and Mid-Way Drive-In Theater in Mifflintown are still in operation.

“There were more that popped up, one in York and one in Mechanicsburg,” says Hardy. “The value of the ground was worth more to develop it. So there was a time when drive-ins died down a little bit. It died off for us as well, but it was still manageable. When we took it over, we ran it seven nights-a-week. That was cost-effective then.

“My grandfather passed away in 1972, and he left the business to his four children,” adds Hardy. “He did have visions. But his four children didn’t have as many. They didn’t change many things. They were accustomed to the way things were. When we (the third generation) took over in 2003, we made a lot of changes. We installed a new digital system and built a new screen. We’ve taken the approach, ‘We’ll adapt and if we see an opportunity, we’re going to take advantage of it.’”

Vance Haar built Haar’s Drive-In Movie Theater in a meadow outside Dillsburg in 1952. A bit of a visionary, Haar understood the value of entertainment and enjoyed making people laugh.

“He was a show-man,” says Hardy of her grandfather. “He just always had different ideas. He was sort of a jokester and a trickster. Prior to building the drive-in, he would take a projector and a screen and travel around and show movies locally. That was before they (drive-in theaters) became popular. I think people were looking for entertainment and he wanted to make local entertainment available here.

“What I know is that if you get the first-run movies, then you’re going to have a sell-out crowd,” Hardy adds. “We show family-friendly movies. If it’s a good, family-friendly movie, we’re going to have a full-capacity crowd. People like to be outside. They have their own little spaces. You can sit in your car or you can sit in front of your car in your favorite lawn chair. You can enjoy it with your family as an evening out. We try to keep everything at a reasonable price, so we’re catering to families.”

 Haar’s is a third-generation business that attracts third-generation drive-in movie enthusiasts. It’s a family tradition, all the way around.

“People come for the entertainment, and the place is nostalgic,” says Hardy. “They have fond memories, and they want their children to have the same fond memories.

“The most rewarding thing for me is looking outside and seeing families being together and having a good time.”

“It’s everyone, from two years- to 90-years-old,” continues Hardy. “There are families. There are couples. There are teenagers on date nights. It’s groups of friends. We have people from out of state travel to come here. We have people from all over, it’s not just our local community. A lot of them don’t have drive-ins where they’re from, or they like the atmosphere. And yes, the local people support us as well.”

The future of Haar’s Drive-In Movie Theater remains murky, at best. Its management will continue to control all the aspects of change that it can.

 “It’s going to make a comeback,” says Hardy, more of the industry than Haar’s itself. “I don’t see a need in our area. But in other states, they’re building new one, and they’re building more than one screen. With two screens, you’re going to have a benefit. If it wouldn’t be a lucrative business, we wouldn’t be doing it.”