Drive-In survival: A tale of two Starlites

Here’s a depressing story about the Starlite Drive-In (Mitchell SD) which we’ve discussed previously. According to the Argus Leader and the theater’s web site, the Starlite will close “forever” after the last show this Saturday, September 21. You know, it takes optimism and an overwhelming dedication to survival to invest in digital projection equipment for a seasonal business with modest profits. I don’t think this Starlite’s owner wanted to take on that huge debt just to keep it alive. That’s his business, and he’s not alone, but it’s still darned sad to us drive-in fans.

It was so sad that I just had to find something else for balance. Let’s shift our gaze to a different Starlite Drive-In, almost due east from Mitchell to Grand Bend, Lambton Shores, where that little Ontario peninsula reaches down from the rest of Canada. The Starlite Drive-In there is excited about reopening next May with new digital equipment. The Sarnia Observer tells us that owner Allan Barnes will stay open through October using the old film projectors. “I’m pretty much the last hold out on film, which probably annoyed the customers a couple of nights ago when the film broke,” he said.

Barnes told the Observer that he didn’t think customers would notice the difference next year, but I disagree. From my experience, digital projection has noticeably brighter colors and sharper details, especially in the corners. I’ll bet that Barnes will discover this for himself next spring. But according to the Observer, “He even plans on keeping his old projection equipment so he can keep showing the drive-in’s collection of film shorts and cartoons that he jokes, ‘we abuse, or entertain, our customers with every night.’” That’s a great reason for keeping the old equipment around even while doing what needs to be done to keep a decades-old institution alive.

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