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Vote Valle Drive-In for new digital projector

Over the last week, rumors have circulated about the future of the Valle Drive-In and how supporters can help Newton’s long-time outdoor movie theater, but rest assured, the drive-in will not be closing following the summer and online donations are discouraged because of a recent scam, owners and staff confirmed.

What is encouraged from the community are votes for the Valle to win a new digital projector through the Project Drive-In contest sponsored by Honda that runs until Sept. 9.

Due to advances in modern technology along with high production and shipping costs, studios are phasing out the use of 35 mm film and digital production will take its place.

Although there is not an industry deadline on film, many studios such as 20th Century Fox have stated they will no longer use the medium after the end of this year.

As studios transition to digital, drive-ins and small theaters face a monetary hurdle to upgrade their projectors and projection rooms, which will cost around $80,000, according to Valle Drive-In owner Jim Mertz.

Jim and Barb Mertz have owned the Valle since 1976.

Project Drive-In is a national contest created by Honda to help save the American icon. Its purpose is to encourage community awareness and action. Honda will donate five new digital projection systems to the five drive-ins receiving the most votes. Voting began on Aug. 9 and runs until Sept. 9.

Nearly 100 drive-ins across the country are on the list, including Valle Drive-In.

Katie Pletcher, a Valle manager and employee of six years, said project representatives were persistent in approaching the theater about participating.

With the approval from Jim and Barb to go ahead, Katie has worked hard to promote the contest at the theater and on Facebook.

The drive-in opened in 1949 and is the only one left in central Iowa. It’s concessions, popcorn machine, speakers and neon entrance light are originals, adding to the historic, American cinema experience. There are four remaining drive-ins in the state, but Valle is the oldest and longest running.

At one point there were more than 4,000 drive-in movie theaters across the country. Now there are fewer than 370.

Adapting to new technology isn’t the only hurdle the drive-in business has faced since its origin in the ’30s.

“A lot of the drive-ins were built on expensive land and then when the cities grew out, the land became more valuable than the theater,” Jim said.

Business has been good at the drive-in this season. It started out unusually slow because of the late rain and snow, but the weekend traffic this summer has been high, sometimes even selling out, Katie said.

Recently, an online opportunity to donate funds toward saving the theater was created; however, the link is untrustworthy. The drive-in received a number of concerns from people who questioned the website’s credibility.

“Someone is misleading people and impersonating us, but we are in no way affiliated with that. Do not donate to this link,” Katie said. “I don’t know why someone would do that.”

“We want no donations. We want votes,” Barb said.

To help the Valle Drive-In win Honda’s Project Drive-In contest all you need to do is vote. In fact,  the good news is you can vote twice a day, and it’s easy to do.

Vote by text — You can vote once each day by texting VOTE73 to 444999.

Vote online — You can vote once each day online by going to

“Even if we don’t win the projector we’ll have to buy one, but why not try to win one?” Katie said. “We could win if everybody votes.”

Staff writer Kate Malott may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at

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