Keeping the Drive-In Dream Alive

Back in October of last year, we posted a piece entitled “Are drive-in theaters driving off into the sunset?” Sadly, in many cases the answer is a resounding “Yes,” due to the costs of converting the screens from 35 millimeter film to digital projection. A digital projector can cost as much as $70,000 per screen plus additional retrofitting costs. Many drive-ins simply aren’t able to pay the price, so they’re falling by the wayside.

We recently heard about a drive-in that’s fighting to raise the money needed to thrive in the digital age and we wanted to share the story, particularly since the theater is in our home state of Washington. A ferry ride and a 50-mile drive away from TireBuyer headquarters near Seattle, Port Townsend is a charming, sleepy town on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

Port Townsend’s Wheel-In Motor Movie Theatre, in business since 1953, is one of just four drive-ins left in Washington – and if it doesn’t raise around $18,500 by Sunday, June 8, that number could drop to three. The theater’s owner is putting $30,000 of his own money towards the $65,000 cost of digital conversion and has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the remaining $35,000. The campaign ends on June 8. In case you’re not familiar with how Kickstarter works: if the fundraising goal isn’t reached by the campaign’s end, all the money raised will be returned to the donors. As of Friday morning, May 30, the theater had raised $16,502.

wheel-in motor movie theater

We can’t help but root for this little theater nestled amongst tall pines, named the “Best in the West” drive-in by Sunset Magazine back in 2003. If you feel similarly nostalgic, it’s easy to help. Even a donation of $25 comes with special perks – buttered popcorn and your name on the Wheel-In website and the new digital screen. And of course, the perks increase with the donation amount, all the way up to a private screening for a $5,000 gift.

We wish the best of luck to the Wheel-In, and to drive-ins everywhere that are working to make the conversion to digital projection.  We hope you’ll be lighting up summer nights for decades to come!


Images courtesy of Wheel-In Motor Movie