VINELAND — Just a few years ago, the number of drive-in movie theaters in the United States numbered more than 400. Now, there are just over 300. And only one of them is in New Jersey.

But Jude DeLeonardis, who has owned and operated the Delsea Drive-In Theatre with her husband John since 2004, doesn't see the attraction as a dying breed.

For her, the "essence of the drive-in is its purity." The Vineland site had been a drive-in theater from 1949 to 1987, and when the DeLeonardises originally scouted the property, they envisioned turning it into a skate park.

However, after giving consideration to the lack of entertainment options in Cumberland County compared to other areas of New Jersey, the family changed course. Moviegoers are glad they did — DeLeonardis said their audiences are thankful, and hope the theater continues to operate for years to come.

Another drawing card for the drive-in, DeLeonardis said, is the simplicity which strikes young people when they attend.

"The younger generations that did not know drive-ins, I think they're still in the 'amazement phase,' that there is such a thing as this," she said, noting that it's a different experience from the isolated, non-social world kids often live in thanks to their various devices.

It is that sense of community, plus a feeling of nostalgia for the older crowd, that keeps people coming back, especially on the nice summer nights when people sit outside their cars and engage with the films.

"Even though you have your own vehicles, there's some sort of a communal experience that goes on out there in the field," DeLeonardis said.

The Delsea Drive-In does not sell tickets in advance. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from March through October, gradually expanding to four nights a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

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