By now everyone has probably heard the news…the Saco Drive-In is closing for good and being sold to an entirely different type of business.
We all knew at some point this day might come, but it’s a lot sooner than many of us thought after our community rallied to save this place back in 2013.
Back then, the issue the Saco Drive-In faced, along with most mom-and-pop drive-ins across the country, was the lack of digital technology needed to run modern films. The film industry basically forced drive-ins to adapt to a different kind of projector that cost a high premium. Around $80-100,000 depending on the unit. Most small business owners couldn’t justify the cost over simply calling it quits.
Luckily, Honda, yes that Honda, came to the rescue by offering an ingenious national contest that allowed drive-ins to compete for online votes. The top vote getters would be awarded a digital projector.
Here was little old us, Saco, Maine, competing on a national stage. When the business manager, Ry Russell, approached me as Saco’s State Representative to get involved and help organize, of course I said yes, but I was also nervous so much rested on this. If we weren’t successful, the business would likely go under and be sold. It was the thing that motivated us the most, fueled us to push as hard as we could to get every corner of Maine and any person touched by the drive-in to vote.
We heard stories from all over including other parts of the country who vacationed in OOB or surrounding areas just how much the Saco Drive-In meant to them and their families. My own grandmother told me stories of how the drive-in was a low-cost option for entertainment. You could pile all the kiddos in the car and still pay the same rate. Can’t beat that.
Ultimately, against all odds, we won! It felt like our community and our state won the lottery. I felt renewed hope that through the power of community organizing, we were able to do something not many thought possible. We achieved something special that was literally a beacon of positivity and escape for so many. Americana was saved.
We thought at the time this would surely keep the drive-in around for decades and even generations to come. Others would surely get to experience what we’ve all experienced growing up; a sense of family, friendship, and community. To be transported back to a simpler time. So much more than simply watching a movie, it was about experiencing it with those you loved; a giant tailgate party before the swarm of mosquitoes carried you off to the concession stand.
The Saco Drive-In is the oldest drive-in theater in Maine and is believed to be the country’s second oldest drive-in. More than 80 years this has been a part of our community. The reason this closure is such devastating news for our area is because this is such a cultural gem and connection to our past that we’re not going to have going forward. To not have that iconic sign along Route 1 is going to be hard to swallow for a lot of folks. It’s a piece of our identity as Saco. It’s as quintessential Saco as Rapid Rays or the old mills.
People feel that they’re a part of the Saco Drive-In because of how much they’ve grown up with it. We all feel that we own a piece of that place in some odd way.
While I hope this turned out differently, I’m not sure much can really be done at this point. The owners are allowed to sell to whoever they want to, but I would hope something could be done with the digital projector that we all fought so hard to get and the iconic sign that is part of our history. Maybe the trailer dealership who bought the land could recognize this special connection to our community and work with us to preserve it somehow or pass it off to someone willing to revitalize it elsewhere.
The Saco Drive-In isn’t just another business, it’s a part of us and our memories will live on in nostalgic glee.
Justin Chenette is former state senator and candidate for county commissioner.
Petition created by group of dedicated supporters of the drive-in