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GIBSON CITY — The town’s historic drive-in is nearing its goal to go digital and stay open, thanks to supporters and a “large bank loan.”
As at other drive-ins, and all movie theaters, films will no longer be offered this year on spools; all theaters must change to digital, which is estimated to cost the Harvest Moon at least $120,000.
But by taking a risk — using another family business as collatoral for a loan — the Harroun family is comfortable predicting another season.
Manager Ben Harroun says there’s even a plan for the first show in March, “GI Joe: Retaliation.” “We’ll throw a premiere party in March or April for everyone who helped us out,” he said.
The twin theaters are still $14,000 short of the needed goal, Harroun said.
“We’re getting very close,” he said. “We think donors will come through. There are rewards tied to each donation; 50 bucks gets you $90 in value.”
Harroun declined to say how much money was being borrowed from a bank.
But the family is working on the digital modifications necessary, including moving the two projection booths, which will cost four valuable parking spaces.
They’re also working on redoing the snack bars at the Harvest Moon.
Harroun said larger theaters get financial help with the transition to digital, but small town theaters and drive-ins don’t.
“We’re going to be one of the last drive-ins in the U.S. About 20 have closed in the last month,” he said.
Another difficulty many drive-ins face is that they don’t own the land they’ve sat on since the 1950s, the Gibson City drive-in being a case in point.
But the Harrouns have succeeded in getting a good deal on the digital equipment.
“We talked to six companies, and got one of them to drop their price by around $3,500.
Still, it will take years for the Harroun family to recoup its investment.
Ben Harroun didn’t have a profit margin for the most recent season, but in 2011, the theater made about $20,000.
“We put a deposit on the equipment with money we already have, and we can run as long as we can make the payments,” he said.
“The loan payments are due every month whether the theater is open or not.”
More information is available at http://www.harvestmoondrivein.com.