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Modernized drive-in theater retains nostalgia of bygone era

Beverly Drive-In opens for business again in Hub City

HATTIESBURG — With its bright neon sign and two screens, the Beverly Drive-In Theater on U.S. 49 opened for business the first time on May 29, 1948. Its feature presentation then was “Swell Guy,” starring Sonny Tufts and Ann Blyth. Fifty-three years later, the drive-in is once again open for business.

Today, the Beverly has modern movies, and moviegoers are paying a bit more than the 39 cents they once did to park and watch the movies. But the mammoth screen that the Beverly boasts is still there. It stands atop a nine-room 4,000-square-foot home that once belonged to the late Beverly owners Herby and Sue Hargroder.

Now that the Beverly is back — it opened May 11, 2001, under new management — it has once again become a symbol of Hattiesburg.

The Beverly represents a bygone era, and while it once was frequented by girls and guys in T-shirts and jeans, today it is a place for families and university students.

Barb Suick, full partner in N&S Theatres, from Antigo, Wisc., is leasing the Beverly. The Beverly is the only theater leased by N&S in Mississippi and is the only drive-in theater leased by N&S. The company has indoor theaters in Wisconsin and Florida.

“It’s a project we’ve been working on a couple of years,” Suick said.

Suick partnered with her husband, Tim, and friend Jim Norton to get the project off the ground.

“Jim Norton drove by the Beverly one day about four years ago and saw it sitting there,” Suick recalled. “It just kind of went from there.”

It took N&S about six weeks to open the Beverly. Three thousand trees had to be cut in the back lot. Now there is room for 250 cars in the back and 310 cars in the front, and there is a car radio broadcast used for movie sound instead of the old speaker system.

Suick said she loves the Beverly and the nostalgia that surrounds it.

“It’s doing pretty good,” she said. “We’re at the point now where we’ve been open enough and have gotten a lot of the wrinkles out where we can start doing promotions. Businesses have come in and done business parties. It’s available for large groups.”

Years ago N&S had more drive-ins than the Beverly, including one in Antigo, but over the years drive-ins have disappeared. Land value became worth more than the businesses, and that led to the shutdown of many drive-in theaters.

It appears though, that the Beverly in Hattiesburg will not be shut down anytime soon.

“We have had such a positive response,” Suick said. “It’s been great. The town has been super to us.”

Recently, Forest General Hospital showed their appreciation for their employees by holding a gathering at the Beverly. For three consecutive nights the employees viewed movies.

Randall Strange, chairman of the special events committee and director of environmental services for Forest General Hospital, said the Beverly was a way to get out of the stressful environment of the hospital and bring everyone together.

“Our committee was charged with coming up with something,” Strange said. “We went through the normal picnics and other events we’ve done and through a discussion with about six or seven people, one thing led to another and the Beverly Drive-In came up in conversation.”

Strange said the Beverly staff was elated to hear of the hospital’s idea.

“They (the staff of the Beverly) made it happen for us,” Strange said. “What we offered the employees was a free admission of the employee’s car including everyone in it, and everyone in the car got free popcorn and drinks. The response was excellent. We felt like we hit better than a third of our employees.”

Bill Oliver, president of Forest General hospital, said he has gotten more thank-you cards and letters in response to the Beverly Drive-In show than at any other time.

“I couldn’t have been more pleased with the reaction,” Oliver said, adding that another employee appreciation event is scheduled for this spring at the Beverly.

Strange said he also enjoyed the event, and continues to enjoy the Beverly.

“My wife and I are nostalgic-type people,” Strange said. “She and I live in an historical neighborhood. So when the Beverly opened back up, we wanted our four kids to experience the drive-in like we did. We went there and parked and looked up and there were people we knew all over the place.

“I think the people who come out there, once they experience the Beverly, they’re going to be return customers.”

Ward Emling, manager of the Mississippi Film Office at the Mississippi Development Authority, said the Beverly is a great place.

“I’m glad to see it opening,” he said. “I think the first film I ever saw was in a drive-in theater. It’s a great experience and one that you don’t get anymore. Generally drive-ins are a lot of fun, but specifically the Beverly is such a great old drive-in. It just gives us another venue that we haven’t had. What we’ve lost in the last decade or so are great big venues to see films, and that’s a shame. That’s the way you want to see a big movie. A lot of movies that get made today are fine on a little screen, whether in a living room or in a theater. But those films that are big should be seen big. I’m just glad it’s open.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.

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