Screen Time

Grab a Frisbee and leash up the dog. Tibbs Drive-In debuts its big refresh.
Photography by Tony Valainis/Indianapolis Monthly

MARCELLA Snyder’s relationship with the westside’s famed Tibbs Drive-In Theatre goes back to a summer job as a teen. These days, she’s the owner and taking the long view when it comes to keeping the institution thriving.

The goal of her recent upgrades to the summer hot spot was twofold: Keep the faithful coming back, and entice a new generation to flock to the drive-in. “After purchasing it in 2019, we knew it was going to need a lot of love if we were going to celebrate the 60-year anniversary in 2027,” says Snyder. “We want it to be the best it can be.”

Tibbs is one of the few outdoor theaters left in the country. The impetus for the revamp wasn’t customer complaints but a desire to keep a classic family pastime alive and well in Indianapolis.

Snyder started with what she felt were the most pressing concerns. They included replacing outdated kitchen equipment, installing a new point of sale device that accepts Apple and Samsung Pay, fencing in the main gate, painting the screens, putting a new roof on the concession building, upgrading movie projectors and LED lighting, and reconfiguring the parking in two of the four lots. The latter resulted in a net loss of several parking spaces, but the changes were necessary. (Cars and trucks were considerably smaller when the theater opened in 1967 than they are now.) Midwest artist Jon Stommel painted murals on the interior and exterior of the concession stand with iconic Hoosier images: a cardinal, race cars, and corn.

Even the restrooms got a fresh paint job.

Plant eaters have new offerings to look forward to as they wait in line for refreshments, including Impossible Burgers and vegan chicken tenders cooked in a dedicated fryer. Concession prices remain nominal compared to traditional theaters. Snyder feels strongly about the tradition of keeping Tibbs affordable for parents with peckish kids. Yes, funnel fries still await.

To appeal to a wider audience, smaller studio releases are being introduced for the first time this season, as well as technology that allows for subtitles and Spanish language–listening. And Snyder is far from done making improvements, saying “We have plans to continue remodeling over the next five to 10 years as our financial resources allow.” Those future improvements include new sound equipment, completing the parking configuration in the remaining two lots, surrounding the entire property with fresh fencing, building an entirely new box office, and adding a second playground.

“We think the community is just as excited as we are to make the Tibbs a better place,” says Snyder. And some things will never change. “The friendly staff and cool summer vibes are what the Tibbs prides itself on after all these years.” 480 S. Tibbs Ave.