- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

BARKHAMSTED, Conn. (AP) - Hundreds of families picnic and pajama-clad children usually dot the expansive lush green field at the Pleasant Valley Drive-in every summer, waiting for hours for the sun to set and the movies to start.

“It’s more than a night out at the movies,” said owner Donna McGrane, who has run the Barkhamsted drive-in with her husband, Tim, for nearly two decades. “It’s a whole experience.”

The grounds are still completely original, down to the carbon arc projectors from a World War II Navy ship and poles that once propped up speakers. And that’s the problem.

Studios at the beginning of the year stopped producing 35 mm film as movie companies become increasingly digital.

The cost of digital projectors is upward of $75,000, and with the drive-in theater lacking that type of cash flow it’s in jeopardy of closing, a grim prospect for many who have enjoyed it since it opened in 1947.

“I grew up going to the drive-in,” said Travis Lipinski, 32, of Torrington. “It’s a mom-and-pop business. There’s nothing that means family more than going to a drive-in.”

So an extended family of supporters is embracing McGrane and recruiting volunteers needed to gather items for auctions, ahead of an April 19 fundraiser that includes dinner, drinks and a pair of auctions.

Proceeds from the event, to be held at 6 p.m. at the Crystal Peak Facility in Winsted, will go toward helping the drive-in pay for new projectors.

For years, the drive-in has been a cheaper alternative for cash-strapped families not wanting to spend lots of money for a movie, popcorn and drinks. Some nights, McGrane offers a deal of $16 per carload, for two movies.

Couples from across Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York have visited the drive-in, looking to rekindle memories of past dates. The drive-in usually opens the start of April or May, depending on weather, and has space for up to 200 cars.

McGrane remembered an elderly couple who heard about her predicament last year drove from Old Saybrook to donate $25 for the projectors.

“There’s people who come every single weekend; they don’t even care what’s playing,” she said.

Lipinski said he hopes people support the drive-in’s quest to modernize.

“You have the old nostalgia, but you need today’s technology to keep up, to bridge the perfect recipe,” he said. “Many people can sit back and say, ‘Oh that’s terrible,’ but there has to be some activism. The people who want to see it going have to help out a bit.”

McGrane purchased the drive-in from a family friend 18 years ago after he feared construction of movie theater in Winsted would cut into business.

Her husband, already busy running a family-owned restaurant, told his wife she’d have to partner with someone to split startup costs.

McGrane found a young willing investor, but after a year she bought him out when they couldn’t agree on the drive-in’s target audience.

“There was too much of a generation gap,” McGrane said. “I wanted it to be a family place; he wanted it to be a teenager hangout. So I bought it twice, really.”

The projectors represent the most recent financial hurdle for McGrane, who said she keeps the business afloat more for “sentimental value” than hopes of turning a profit. She said up to 90 percent of ticket sales go to pay movie companies and overhead.

The family’s cut from concessions usually goes to pay rent and is funneled back into maintaining the facility, a rarity by today’s standards.

“People see cars lined up and they say, ‘She’s raking in the money,’” McGrane said. “It could be a money pit at times. I certainly don’t make enough money to live off.”

Last year, the drive-in entered Honda’s, “Project Drive-In” in August with the hope of winning a new projector, but was not among the selected winners.


Information from: The Register Citizen, http://www.registercitizen.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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