GRINDSTONE – John “Preach” Sebeck starting working at Brownsville Drive-in at the age of 16, working in the snack bar and cleaning up after moviegoers.
Then, 50 years ago, he and a partner purchased the drive-in, which, by then, was showing adult films, like many drive-ins, because of competition from VCRs.
“At the time it was the only thing that was bringing in money,” said Sebeck, who is ready to move on from the outdoor movie business.
He said he’s putting the 30-acre attraction along the National Road up for sale.
The three-screen drive-in at 6231 National Pike has returned to showing family movies and is just one of 27 still operating in Pennsylvania, according to DriveInMovie.com.
The theater was built with one-screen by Isadore J. Ficks, who also owned a nearby motel. The drive-in business peaked in 1958 when there were 5,000 of them nationwide. By 1990 there were fewer than 1,000 still operating in the country.
In July 1992, Brownsville was charging 99 cents per carload and showing a Three Stooges movie and the “Memoirs of an Invisible Man,” starring Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah, according to an ad published in the Observer-Reporter.
The theater is still busy, and business picked up during the pandemic because “people just wanted something to do and get outside,” said Charlie Perkins, who works for Sebeck.
“You can sit at home and watch TV, but it’s not the same,” Perkins said.
At age 72, Sebeck said he is ready to put working as many as 18 hours a day behind him. He also owns the nearby Route 40 Classic Diner.
“I hate to, but I can’t continue,” he said.