Bonnie and Joe Barth of the Highway 21 Drive-in: Where the stars come out at night

By Lanier Laney

Bonnie and Joe Barth are the rare couple who both enjoy working two jobs each.
During the day, it’s the flooring business — Bonnie works for Floor Fashion in Moss Creek Village and sells all types of wonderful flooring, carpet, tile, stone, wood, while Joe — a flooring sub-contractor who owns his own business, J & J Flooring Installation — installs carpet, vinyl, both residential and commercial flooring.
At night, they start their second job of running the Highway 21 Drive-In Movie Theatre, which they co-own and love.

Joe and Bonnie Barth of the Highway 21 Drive-In Movie Theatre.

It was kind of by accident how they got into the “movie business” here. Joe, a Wisconsin native, met Bonnie, who was from Florida, at a coed softball game in Texas. They fell in love and have been married for 16 happy years.  They decided to move to Beaufort to be closer to Bonnie’s family (her brother George Shelor lives on Hilton Head).
Bonnie said, “We bought a house in Grays Hill about five minutes from the drive-in. We moved here in 1996 and went to the drive-in often. This is why we were so disappointed to see it close in 2002. Little did I know at the time that Joe would decide to buy and reopen it.”
Fortunately, one of them had some experience working at a drive-in theater.  Bonnie grew up in Palm Beach County, Florida, and her first real job was at the Beach Drive-In Movie Theatre in West Palm Beach. “So she knew how to make the popcorn already,” said Joe with a laugh. Other than that, they had to learn on the job, but learn they did and for the past eight years, it has been a Beaufort favorite for families and couples on dates.
I asked Joe why he thinks people like going to a drive-in versus a regular movie theater and here are his Top 10 reasons:
1. You don’t have to fight for the arm rest.
2. You won’t have people texting or talking on their cell phones sitting near you (unless they are with you).
3. No gum stuck under the seat.
4. Concession food is reasonably priced.
5. You don’t have to look around or over the head of the really tall person sitting in front of you.
6. You control the volume.
7. Have a baby that might cry? No problem.
8. Have a dog with “separation anxiety”? We’re pet friendly.
9. You can laugh out loud without being ssshhhed.
10. And, as one of our younger patrons commented, “I get to breathe fresh air and see bats!”
Both Bonnie and Joe really love working at the drive-in “because of the many great people we meet there,” says Bonnie.
Adds Joe, “It is so refreshing to have such loyal customers who really appreciate everything we do.”
Plus they’ve had a lot of fun experiences with customers there. Says Joe, “It’s always funny when we’re asked if we show matinees,” (since you can’t show movies during daylight at a drive-in) and sometimes they have to wake up a customer when the movies are over.  They often have to catch teenagers sneaking in, because they heard their parents did it “back in the day.”
“But the saddest thing,” says Bonnie, “is our military customers who get transferred and come in for their last trip to the tell us goodbye.” At least they send them off with fond memories of the happy nights they spent at the drive-in in Beaufort.
Both Bonnie and Joe agree: “Our employees and customers are like our family, we love and appreciate them very much.”
Their daughter Cara helps out at the drive-in too and she plans to marry Steven King who works with Joe — keeping the flooring and drive-in combo going into the next generation.
If you love the drive-in and want to see it continue, there is a great fundraiser this Saturday, Sept. 29, starting at 3 p.m., called The Hooligan Hoedown Classic Car Club. It will raise money for a new digital projector. The admission is $15 per person which includes the movies and gives attendees the chance to win prizes being provided by Beaufort Liquidators. There will be a Classic Car Show, pre-1980 bikes, live bands, a swap meet and vendors.
For more information about this event, movie show times and what’s playing now, go to: http://hwy21drivein.com.
If you need some flooring installed, give Joe and Steve a call at 843-247-2993.

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