Deb Sherman, whose family has run the Lorain County institution since her late father-in-law, George, started it in 1965, says the family’s ability to adapt and incorporate changes in the movie industry are key reasons it has remained a hit with generations of Northeast Ohio audiences.
“We’ve changed along with movies through the years,” Sherman says. “Those changes have made the movies and us better. By doing that we’ve been able to keep it a way for people to enjoy themselves here.”
The facility’s adjustment to two screens helped pave the way early. “A lot of others didn’t do it until later, and some just didn’t do it,” she says. “We figured we could show more movies with the two screens.”
Sherman also pinpoints the location on Lorain Road in North Ridgeville near the Lorain County border with western Cuyahoga County as a selling point. “We draw people from all over,” she says. “We get a lot of people from Lorain County and Cuyahoga County, but we get some from other nearby counties and areas, too.”
Northern Ohio journalist and North Ridgeville resident Ben Saylor, who has written movie and DVD reviews in newspapers and on-line, says the Aut-O-Rama’s popularity stems from a combination of factors.
“It’s a good place to watch a movie,” says Saylor. “They take good care of it and their customers. You have a good view, and it’s just a fun atmosphere. It’s a big part of late spring and summer to many people to go to a drive-in and see a movie with their family or a date.”
Still, Sherman does lament that some changes through the years have resulted in the loss of parts of the former drive-in experience. “We don’t have the speakers to hang on the car windows anymore,” she says. “But, the sound is just so much better nowadays than we had with just the speakers hanging there.”
Being a longtime part of the community also helps keep the theater thriving.
“We talk with each other and try to help each other,” she says, referring to other area businesses. “That can come in handy when people still try to sneak in without paying. If someone at the area gas station sees them, they’ll call over and let us know which vehicle it is.”
Now, as the Aut-O-Rama nears its 50th birthday, Sherman says it recently went digital. “It’s better quality, and as long as we’re here, we’ll try to make it [the drive-in)] better.”