Ruskin drive-in movie theater in jeopardy due to other business’ lights

RUSKIN, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s a historical landmark in the Tampa Bay area. There are only seven in existence throughout the state of Florida. When you’re there, the vibes evoke memories of summertime, childhood and family. 

While the drive-in is a dying breed, it is a favorite spot for families across the Tampa Bay area.

Welcome to the Ruskin Family Drive-In, where the owners are there to greet their customers, hoping to learn about the latest events in their lives. When you’re in this place, it is clear that you are considered family.

Just ask the owner, John Freiwald. He’s been here since 1952 and he loves every minute of it. This is his life’s work.

“This one little drive-in has always been unique. The people here take care of this drive in,” he told News Channel 8.

That’s the reason he loves it. He said this drive-in belongs to the people. He also said it’s the reason he’s fighting so hard to keep it open, so that families can continue to make memories here.

He tells us that nearby lights from Publix and Taco Bell across Highway 41 are leaving his legacy in a lurch, losing money by blinding folks watching the movie. He said he feels responsible if they have a bad experience at his establishment and has often offered refunds in recent weeks.

He also said that his concessions, which are offered at a much lower price than the typical movie theater and are homemade, are not being purchased as much as he would like by customers.

But, he tells us, there’s no way he could close.

“You have to give back something. You can’t walk away from it,” said Freiwald.

He explained to us that Publix has actually reached out to help after hearing his plea. However, he also said that both Publix and nearby businesses across the street are owned by a company called Concordia. That company, he claims, has been giving him the runaround when it comes to working with him on fixing the lights and keeping this historical landmark open.

Rachel Lecy has been coming here with her husband, Matt, since their oldest child was born.

“It’s owned by a family and they’re really sweet,” said Lecy. “And the kids can run around. It’s a real family-oriented place.”

She said that she would feel heartbroken if the drive-in shut down for good.

“It’s really hard to find something like that. It’s a whole different experience. Somewhere like this versus an indoor theater.”

Freiwald said he feels the same way. His labor of love is in danger of closing. But, he tells us that he will fight with everything he’s got, to keep the screen alive with motion pictures, doing all he can to keep it from fading to black.

For families, he said, this is home.

“It’s wonderful. It amazes me everyday how people treat it.”

News Channel 8 reached out to Publix for comment, but did not hear back.

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