Teton Valley will have to say goodbye to summer staples like the Gladys burger and spud buds. There will be no more piling into the back of a pickup to catch a blockbuster under a blanket of stars, as Teton Valley's iconic Spud Drive-in is closing after 58 years.
The theater was purchased in October of 2009 by Lenny Zaban. For many years before that it was owned by the Wood family. Zaban said the main reason for closing is that it's not profitable as a stand alone movie venue. Zaban said last year they stuck their neck out trying a new idea in hosting concerts at the Spud. The management team and a promoter brought Widespread Panic to play on the Fourth of July last summer and it was pretty successful attracting around 4,400 people.
"It was as much an experiment as anything else," Zaban said.
This year Widespread Panic is playing a three-day mini festival at Grand Targhee July 1-3.
With a short summer window, Zaban said they were extremely turned off by that.
"It's the exact band on the exact same weekend," Zaban said. A coincidence is a coincidence, but I don't believe in coincidences. It was a tough thing to look at and swallow."
Grand Targhee Resort owner Geordie Gillett said any assumption that he swooped in and stole the band away from the Spud venue is false. Gillett said they tried to bid on and bring Widespread to Grand Targhee last summer as well, but it went to the Spud.
"It's not surprising that it was successful last year," said Gillett. "It's not that I saw somebody do something and grabbed it all for myself. It's as simple as that."
In August of 2009 the Spud hosted a Dark Star Orchestra concert that also proved to be very successful and was one of the first shows hosted at the Venue. When Zaban took over in the fall the plan of the Spud management team was to bring in more concerts. Besides Widespread, the drive-in hosted other concerts, like the Targhee Battle of the bands show, Keller Williams and Don Carlos among others. Zaban said those weren't as well received and they learned what would work and what didn't. He said the holiday timing probably played into Widespread's success.
The Spud went digital last summer and put money into a few other improvements. Zaban said they worked to put in fresh ideas and investment dollars. He said hosting concerts was a way to show off the Valley to the rest of the country and that they worked with the community to make it happen.
"It's a small community," Zaban said. "Everyone looks out for one another. You just kind of lose your appetite when something like this happens."
The Spud was one of only a few hundred Drive-In movie theaters left in the country. Not only a Valley icon, the drive-in has become a popular roadside attraction as well. The large spud and potato truck place outside theater isn't going anywhere, Zaban said.
While the Spud isn't on the market, Zaban said anything is always for sale. He doesn't anticipate any offers, though with the economy the way it is.