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Santee Drive-In Theatre set to close after over half a century in business

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SANTEE, Calif. — After nearly seven decades in business, the longstanding Santee Drive-In Theatre is set to close its doors next year.

Owners of the theater, which also daylights as a swap meet on select days, announced on Friday that the they will be officially shutting down in January 2024 — leaving just one drive-in in all of San Diego County.

The East County venue has faced significant difficulty in staying afloat in recent years amid rising costs for operation and a dwindling audience. Despite a slight bump in business during the pandemic, these issues have made the time-honored theater “no longer economically viable.”

“We are facing a loss of customers, higher costs, equipment obsolescence, competition from streaming services, and the inability to show some of the newly released films,” Susan Boyd, a member of the family who owns the drive-in, said in the statement. “Like movie theatres across the country, we can’t afford to stay open.”

The 13-acre lot that the Santee Drive-In sits on was first sold to the Boyd’s father, John Elliot Forte, in 1958. At the time, it was one of over 5,000 drive-in theaters across the country, including more than a dozen in San Diego County.

Now, there are fewer than 200 left in the nation. With the Santee Drive-In closing, only one will remain in the county: the South Bay Drive-In and Swap Meet.

“We are sad to be shutting down the theatre,” Boyd said. “We thank the Santee community for their many years of support and humbly ask for their understanding of our family’s decision to close the theatre.”

As for the lot itself, the Forte family will be selling the property to the Los Angeles-based development company, North Palisade Partners. According to Friday’s statement, that sale is expected to go through in 2024.

Earlier this year, North Palisade Partners, who also owns two other sites in San Diego County, submitted a proposal to the City of Santee to build a new industrial building on the property that could be used for “warehousing and distribution, manufacturing, assembly, research and development” among other things.

The Santee City Council has yet to vote on the project, but it is anticipated to be discussed sometime next year.

“We are looking to reimagine this property and build on the legacy of the Forte Family,” North Palisades Partners founder Joe Mishurda said in Friday’s statement. “We want to invest in this community and build a project that attracts companies that will bring local jobs.”

The Santee Drive-In in expected to remain open to the community through the end of this year with its regular schedule of four screenings of feature films per night.

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