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GIBSON CITY — That celluloid purse you purchase today may help save the drive-in theater you love tomor-row.

That’s the mantra going down in Gibson City, where the future of the Pantagraph-area’s only outdoor cinema is being threatened by the digital revolution.

Not by the technology, per se, but by the high cost of upgrading to same for a small business that, by its very nature, can only do business half the year.

“I knew this was coming,” says owner Mike Harroun, who took over the Harvest Moon 23 summers ago and nurtured it into a beloved area institution.

“But I didn’t think it would come this fast,” he adds. “I thought it would be 10 or more years down the road. All of a sudden, this year is it.”

The two-screen Harvest Moon has just reopened for the season, and Harroun isn’t kidding when he says it could be the last.

“I would love to stay open, and I will do everything I can to stay open,” he insists.

But.

Staring him down hard is a conversion tab he estimates could run between $150,000 and $180,000

Staring him down harder is the possibility that “the last year for film might be 2013.”

Because of these factors, and others, Harroun is going to his faithful customer base for a helping hand.

Custom-made celluloid purses and wallets (made out of the very material digital is burying), “Save the Drive-In” T-shirts and bumper stickers are among the battle gear being hauled out as a first line of defense.

Proceeds from their sales will go into the Harvest Moon kitty.

Though industry estimates vary as to when the end of film might come, the fact is, it will come.

And more likely sooner than later.

In the summer ahead, Harroun knows he won’t be able to get some of the choice titles, because they will only be available digitally.

At the theater’s website, www.harvestmoondrivein.com., the costs involved in getting to those choice titles are itemized.

There are industry incentives, like something called a “virtual print fee,” a kickback for every first-run digital print a theater shows instead of 35mm.

Even so, says Harroun, the situation for a small drive-in like his is nearly insurmountable.

A 14-screen megaplex getting a reimbursement on 14 prints, week in and week out, all year long, adds up.

For a two-screen drive-in open, at best, six months, the numbers are not as sexy.

In addition, the technology is different: drive-in projectors require more light to throw an image across half the length of a football field … sound is delivered differently … and the outdoor screens are a different breed.

“I know I’m not going to get $160,000 in donations,” he says. “But if I get at least $50,000, I’d feel a whole lot better.”

Harroun knows the fallout that might come from such a campaign.

“Some people might ask, ‘why should I help save a business?’”

D. Edward Vogel, of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association (UDITOA), offers one perspective.

In addition to his role with UDITOA, which represents 150 drive-in owners across the land (Harroun included), Vogel runs the single-screen Bengie’s Drive-In in Baltimore County, Md.

“As far as the drive-in industry goes, all that’s left are the little guys, like Mike,” says Vogel.

These hearty survivors, he adds, are a breed apart: “Each and every one has his own personality; each and every one is devoted; and for each and everyone, it’s a struggle. If this were a very lucrative business, we’d still have the big boys playing.”

The big boys skedaddled a long time ago.

“Mike is doing what he’s doing because it’s a passion, a labor of love; he’s not doing it to make a fortune,” Vo-gel adds. “He’s always been one who takes the bull by the horns. That’s the way he looks at life, and he does it in a very benevolent way.”

Vogel sees the drive-in as “a place for the community to meet” and, well, commune. “It’s a little more unique than just a business.”

“What is more American than a drive-in?” asks Harroun. “And when they’re all gone, people will be upset.”

In Gibson City, the Harvest Moon functions as a community magnet during the warm-weather months.

“I’ve got a lot of great customers who, over the years, have also become great friends. And I know there are lots of them who don’t want to see us close.”

That sense of unity — of a place being something more than what it seems — is what Harroun hopes will help save the Harvest Moon’s day.

“It’s more like tailgate party where families come out and socialize and bring their own food and the kids are out playing in front of the screens and everyone’s having a good time,” he says. “It really is a big thing here.”

 

 

 

Digital revolution could doom the Harvest Moon

 

By Dan Craft

GIBSON CITY — That celluloid purse you purchase today may help save the drive-in theater you love tomorrow.

That’s the mantra going down in Gibson City, where the future of the Pantagraph-area’s only outdoor cinema is being threatened by the digital revolution.

Not by the technology, per se, but by the high cost of upgrading to same for a small business that, by its very nature, can only do business half the year.

“I knew this was coming,” says owner Mike Harroun, who took over the Harvest Moon 23 summers ago and nurtured it into a beloved area institution.

“But I didn’t think it would come this fast,” he adds. “I thought it would be 10 or more years down the road. All of a sudden, this year is it.”

The two-screen Harvest Moon has just reopened for the season, and Harroun isn’t kidding when he says it could be the last. 

“I would love to stay open, and I will do everything I can to stay open,” he insists.

But.

Staring him down hard is a conversion tab he estimates could run between $150,000 and $180,000

Staring him down harder is the possibility that “the last year for film might be 2013.”

Because of these factors, and others, Harroun is going to his faithful customer base for a helping hand.

Custom-made celluloid purses and wallets (made out of the very material digital is burying), “Save the Drive-In” T-shirts and bumper stickers are among the battle gear being hauled out as a first line of defense.

Proceeds from their sales will go into the Harvest Moon kitty.

Though industry estimates vary as to when the end of film might come, the fact is, it will come.

And more likely sooner than later.

In the summer ahead, Harroun knows he won’t be able to get some of the choice titles, because they will only be available digitally.

At the theater’s website, www.harvestmoondrivein.com., the costs involved in getting to those choice titles are itemized.

There are industry incentives, like something called a “virtual print fee,” a kickback for every first-run digital print a theater shows instead of 35mm.

Even so, says Harroun, the situation for a small drive-in like his is nearly insurmountable.

A 14-screen megaplex getting a reimbursement on 14 prints, week in and week out, all year long, adds up.

For a two-screen drive-in open, at best, six months, the numbers are not as sexy.

In addition, the technology is different: drive-in projectors require more light to throw an image across half the length of a football field … sound is delivered differently … and the outdoor screens are a different breed.

 “I know I’m not going to get $160,000 in donations,” he says. “But if I get at least $50,000, I’d feel a whole lot better.”

Harroun knows the fallout that might come from such a campaign.

 “Some people might ask, ‘why should I help save a business?’”

D. Edward Vogel, of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association (UDITOA), offers one perspective.

In addition to his role with UDITOA, which represents 150 drive-in owners across the land (Harroun included), Vogel runs the single-screen Bengie’s Drive-In in Baltimore County, Md.

“As far as the drive-in industry goes, all that’s left are the little guys, like Mike,” says Vogel.

These hearty survivors, he adds, are a breed apart: “Each and every one has his own personality; each and every one is devoted; and for each and everyone, it’s a struggle. If this were a very lucrative business, we’d still have the big boys playing.”

The big boys skedaddled a long time ago.

“Mike is doing what he’s doing because it’s a passion, a labor of love; he’s not doing it to make a fortune,” Vogel adds. “He’s always been one who takes the bull by the horns. That’s the way he looks at life, and he does it in a very benevolent way.”

Vogel sees the drive-in as “a place for the community to meet” and, well, commune. “It’s a little more unique than just a business.”

“What is more American than a drive-in?” asks Harroun. “And when they’re all gone, people will be upset.”

In Gibson City, the Harvest Moon functions as a community magnet during the warm-weather months.

“I’ve got a lot of great customers who, over the years, have also become great friends. And I know there are lots of them who don’t want to see us close.” 

That sense of unity — of a place being something more than what it seems — is what Harroun hopes will help save the Harvest Moon’s day.

 “It’s more like tailgate party where families come out and socialize and bring their own food and the kids are out playing in front of the screens and everyone’s having a good time,” he says. “It really is a big thing here.”


Numbers al fresco

1 - Drive-in theaters in Pantagraph circulation area

2 - Screens at the Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In

6 - Approximate number of months a Midwest drive-in is open

12 - Drive-in theaters left in Illinois (www.driveins.com)

23 - Years Mike Harroun has operated the Harvest Moon

400 - Approx. number of drive-ins remaining in United States

1933 - Year the first drive-in theater opened (New Camden, N.J.)

5,000 - Approx. peak number of drive-ins circa the late 1960s-early 1970s

160,000 - Approx. cost in dollars to digitally upgrade the Harvest Moon


At a glance

What: Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In

Where: 1123 S. Sangamon Ave., Gibson City (Ill. 47 south)

When: Gates open 6 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 6:30 p.m. Sun.; shows at dusk

Admission: $6 per person, under 4 free

Information: www.harvestmoondrivein.com; 877-546-6843

Showing this weekend: “Wrath of the Titans” and “The Hunger Games”

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