Long-time Austin theater Blue-Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In takes on new life in pandemic

Josh Frank, owner of Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in for more than a decade, holds up a Blue Starlite-branded mask. (Photo by Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Josh Frank, owner of Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in for more than a decade, holds up a Blue Starlite-branded mask. (Photo by Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

Josh Frank, owner of Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in for more than a decade, holds up a Blue Starlite-branded mask. (Photo by Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)

Drive-in theater Blue Starlite found itself in a unique position in 2020: After more than 10 years as a small business “just getting by,” demand for drive-in movies exploded, owner Josh Frank said.

At the same time as many local institutions were forced to adapt to business models due to the pandemic, the Blue Starlite experience was already socially distant and in compliance with new state and local safety regulations.

“Last year when COVID-19 hit, I woke up in the morning to discover I was the only theater open in town,” Frank said.

Frank, a native Austinite, writer and artist, started the project that would become Blue Starlite in 2009. At first, he opened a small trailer serving dessert and projected a film at the location. At that point, he considered the project to be a sort of theater exhibit—and assumed it would be a short-lived pop-up.

“I was like, ‘That’d be fun,’” he said. “If some weirdo said, ‘I’ve got a drive-in in an alleyway in East Austin. Come watch an old movie!,’ I’d pay for a night doing that.”


Quickly, Frank realized his project was filling a space in the Austin film market that bigger theater chains did not touch. He had created an experience that people found “charming and quirky,” and it helped him earn steady income while working on writing books; Frank has authored a biography of the punk band Pixies, among other books.

In 2021, Blue Starlite still holds on to the aesthetic Frank began with. The Mueller location now has seven screens, but vintage trailers and movie paraphernalia still dot the landscape.

The business has also grown from the demand of Austinites seeking coronavirus-safe activities; Blue Starlite now offers food and concessions, has extended the life of a pop-up in Round Rock and opened a fresh location downtown. Frank has also obtained licenses to show new independent films in addition to the throwback flicks Blue Starlite is best known for, from “The Princess Bride” to “James Bond” films.

"Ten years ago, what started as this little seed of an idea is now offering such a usefulness to our town,” Frank said. “I’m super proud of that.”
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


MOST RECENT

City Council's April 22 vote decoupled some jobs and services from the Austin Police Department and will provide for the creation of a new emergency communications department to handle city 911 calls. (Community Impact Newspaper Staff)
City Council OKs shifting hundreds of jobs, range of admin duties out of Austin Police Department

More than 280 full-time employees with responsibilities ranging from handling 911 calls to maintenance and human resources will move out of the APD.

Austin ISD trustees approved a resolution April 22 regarding federal education funding currently being held by the state. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD asks state to provide school districts with CARES Act funding earmarked for education spending

Trustee Lynn Boswell said Austin ISD stands to get about $240 million in federal funding if distributed by the state to public districts as intended.

Photo of nurses offering drive-thru vaccines
Appointments no longer needed for drive-thru vaccines at Circuit of the Americas

From April 23-25, people age 16 and up can receive first doses of the Pfizer vaccine without an appointment at COTA.

Austin ISD staff at Pleasant Hill Elementary School distribute meals over the summer in 2020. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD to again offer free lunch to students during 2021-22 school year

Austin ISD has distributed more than 3 million free campus meals and 4.2 million free curbside meals since March 2020.

Q2 Stadium in North Austin
Q2 Stadium to host 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup games this summer

Q2 Stadium has been selected as one of the venues for the upcoming 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.

I-35 at US 183 flyovers
Watch for new traffic patterns on I-35 in North Austin as TxDOT opens new flyovers, closes existing ramp

Drivers trying to connect to northbound US 183 from northbound I-35 will have to take a detour beginning April 26.

The Barks for Beers fundraiser will return to Central Texas in May. (Courtesy Divine Canines)
To-do list: Barks for beers returns to Austin and more local events happening through the end of May

Here are nine events taking place between April 24 and May 31 in Austin.

Austin City Council members met for a work session April 20 ahead of the body's regular April 22 session. (Screenshot via city of Austin)
Austin City Hall notebook: Police services decoupling, rental assistance, downtown density bonus fees under consideration

Council will also consider a resolution that would ask state agencies to begin the distribution of about $18 billion in federal aid money aimed at supporting K-12 education.

The Austin Downtown Alliance shared its 2021 State of Downtown report and new recovery and resiliency plan April 21. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown resiliency plan takes aim at Central Austin storefronts, public spaces, homelessness strategy

Officials with the Downtown Austin Alliance shared details on two new reports analyzing the city center's past year and pandemic recovery plans April 21.

As part of President Joe Biden’s plan to reopen schools safely nationwide, the department’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option is being expanded beyond the summertime. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
USDA extends free school meals provision through 2021-22 school year

Schools nationwide will be able to serve nutritious meals to all students free of charge regardless of eligibility through June 30, 2022, officials announced.

Austin government, nonprofit and business leaders recently participated in a weeks-long summit centered on unsheltered homelessness in the city. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plan to house 3,000 homeless individuals in Austin in the next three years would cost $515 million

The plan Austin City Council members discussed April 20 emerged from a weekslong community-wide summit on homelessness.

Photo of Zilker Park
Travis County establishes Civilian Climate Corps to tackle environmental projects

The program will create opportunities for residents to work on projects including wildfire prevention, solar energy promotion and park cleanups.