Northfield Drive-In owner vows make digital transition in Hinsdale
HINSDALE — Faced with going digital or going dark, Northfield Drive-In owner Mitchell Shakour decided in the end to let the public decide.
So when more than 200 cars pulled into the drive-in Saturday night for a triple feature and 65th anniversary celebration of the drive-in, Mitchell told the crowd during the intermission between “Smurfs 2” and “The Wolverine” that their show of support has spurred him on to continue.
He said he would find a way to make the leap from 35-millimeter film run on 70-year-old carbon arc lamp projectors to the new digital format.
“You guys helped us make the decision by coming,” he said, asking patrons to stay tuned for upcoming campaigns to fund the $100,000 to $150,000 conversion project.
Shakour runs the drive-in with his wife, veterinarian, Carla Folkert and his two children 18-year-old Gabriel and 16-year-old Lili.
Shakour of Keene comes from a family of drive-in theater owners - his parents purchased the Keene Drive-In a few months before he was born.
Then in 1967 his parents bought Hinsdale’s Northfield Drive-In and the family ran both till the Keene Drive-In closed in 1985. The Northfield, which originally opened in 1948, remained open and he eventually took over the family business.
The Northfield is part of cinema history, having made an appearance in the Academy-Award winning 1999 film “The Cider House Rules.”
Though the Northfield Drive-In sits partially in Northfield, Mass., it is technically in Hinsdale because of the location of the screen and projector, Shakour said Saturday.
So it remains one of four drive-ins still open in New Hampshire, he said, though because of its location it is also often frequented by Massachusetts and Vermont residents.
Before the show started, Ben and Kerri Briggs of Northfield, Mass., were settling in for a night at the drive-in on a blanket, with their two children, Abby and Eric, and their dog, Diamond.
It’s a tradition for the family to come to the drive-in each summer and they were hoping this won’t be the drive-in’s last summer.
“I think that would be sad,” Ben Briggs said. “Hope they find the means to do it.”
For father and son Jeff and Jonathan Wyand, of Huntington, Mass., it was their first trip to The Northfield, and 17-year-old Jonathan’s first trip to a drive-in.
They made the hour and 15 minute drive to The Northfield after reading about the anniversary and the possibility of it closing in their local paper.
Jonathan Wyand spent intermission getting a tour of the projection room. He collects 16-milimeter and 8-milimeter projectors and is fascinated with the 35-milimeter equipment.
“It’s exciting. I’ve never seen big projectors, the 35-milimeter, in operation before. … I think it’s really cool and nostalgic that they have film. And it’s sad to see the old stuff is leaving because it’s definitely part of the whole drive-in thing.”
Going digital will be “better for them in the long run,” he said, but added that he prefers the old film format.
“This is his last chance to see this,” his dad Jeff Wyand said.
Despite the transition to digital next year, father and son said they plan to return a few times each summer now for the unique drive-in experience.
Jonathan Wyand said it’s great to sit outside, under the stars, watching a movie.
“It’s nice you get the freedom to walk around. You get to be in the comfort of your own vehicle.”
“Beautiful night too, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” Jeff Wyand said.
The Northfield’s projectionist, Paul Bader, 70, of Winchester and his wife, Mim Johnson, 53, were giving a lot of tours of the projectection room Saturday night as many of the drive-in patrons were curious about the old technology that is soon going the way of the Dodo.
Bader plans to take the two 35-milimeter projectors home after the drive-in closes for the summer after Labor Day weekend.
He already has one at home and said if he doesn’t take them they are likely to be scrapped, since there is no interest in the technology right now. He plans to hold onto them untill they become historically interesting and museums want to display them.
Bader grew up in Long Island, New York, and started working in projection rooms with his father at the age of five, he said.
Aside from a few years serving in the Air Force, he has been a projectionist, working all over the country. So the transition to digital has pushed him into retirement, he said.
“I don’t have a choice anymore, they’re not going to make film anymore,” he said.
Johnson grew up going to the Northfield and the new digital format will not keep Johnson and Bader away, they said.
“I’ve got to come to a drive-in theater and watch movies somehow. Just because I’m not working here, I still have to go to the drive-in,” he said.