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Putting the fun in Fun-Lan

Despite concern that DVD sales and modern home entertainment systems are encroaching on the profits of movie theaters, the general public seems to have forgotten that another option exists. With full-size screens and easily accessible privacy, Fun-Lan Drive-In offers the best of both worlds.

“You can have just two people in the car or you can have a group and still not interfere with other people,” said general manager Ronald F. Simms. “You can enjoy it in your own way.”

The only four-screen theater of its kind in the Bay area, Fun-Lan is a welcome alternative to pricey multiplexes. With a fully loaded snack bar featuring an extensive array of goodies and a competitive slate of first-run films, Fun-Lan proves a worthy challenger to massive movie theater chains.

When the theater first opened in 1950, admission was only 48 cents, according to The theater, then owned by Carl Floyd and Pete Sones, housed only one screen and featured a playground, a 400-foot train ride and a clown to entertain children before the show. In 1963, a trapeze act performed on weekends. However, it wasn’t until 1981 that Fun-Lan’s first major innovation entered the picture with the addition of the Fun-Lan Swap Shop Flea Market.

Originally at Skyway Drive-In Theatre, the flea market – one of the busiest in the Bay area – was relocated to Fun-Lan and has done remarkably well ever since. The combination of drive-in movie theater and flea market has helped Fun-Lan to soar, and Simms attributes this success to the complementary schedules of each. While the flea market performs best in the fall and spring, the drive-in flourishes during the summer movie season, when students traditionally make up a large share of the audience.

“We do play a lot of movies that we feel college kids would like to see,” said Simms, citing the hit teen comedy Superbad as one example of the theater’s efforts to reach out to young adults.

While Fun-Lan has been a Tampa mainstay for decades, the addition of its fourth screen last year demonstrates that the theater is making a solid attempt enhance and expand its facilities. Equipment is upgraded periodically and the theater has revamped its sound system. Instead of those awkward speakers of yesteryear, today’s guests can use their car stereos to hear the films. Although some might see drive-in theaters as an antiquated notion, Fun-Lan has modernized its service, providing a more convenient and efficient system for guests.

Although the technical aspect has improved significantly in recent years, the spirit of Fun-Lan has remained very much the same since its early days. Without the chaos of a crowded theater, Fun-Lan provides guests with a purer movie-going experience. By removing any distractions from the equation, the theater places the focus back on the film, allowing for a more laid-back time at the movies.