A month after a storm ripped up its big outdoor screen, one of the few drive-in theaters left in Minnesota is still shut down as workers try to repair the damage.
It’s the longest the 61-year-old Long Drive-In in Long Prairie has been closed during the seasonal business’ peak summer months.
But owner Michelle Claseman is determined to reopen her family’s treasured central Minnesota theater by September and keep showing films under the stars for generations to come.
“It’s hard not being open,” she said last week, adding that the theater has been bombarded with questions about when it will start showing movies again.
“It’s just a small community so they’re anxious for us to open.”
So is Claseman and her husband, Dan, who bought the theater five years ago from her parents, who ran it for 30 years after working there in the late 1960s. Now the Clasemans, who live in nearby Little Falls, run it full-time with the help of their two kids.
Never before has the theater suffered damage like it did July 17, when high winds destroyed the original 1950s-era screen — which is 86 feet wide and stands 60 feet high — hitting it from behind and scattering panels across the yard.
“It just hit it from the right angle,” Claseman said, adding that it was “gut-wrenching” to see the vintage screen torn down. “It was right in the middle of our busy season.”
Repairs are estimated at nearly $60,000. Although insurance will help cover much of that cost, the community has also stepped up, with donations pouring in from across the state and country in an online fundraiser that’s reached nearly $5,000.
Besides the steep cost of repairs, Claseman said her family has lost thousands of dollars in income from closing the theater for more than a month and canceling special events, such as a popular classic car cruise that was scheduled for this weekend.
“It’s been overwhelming,” she said. “The community has been supportive.”
The Long Drive-In is one of only two continuously running drive-in theaters from the 1950s left in Minnesota, Claseman said.
The state once had nearly 90 drive-in theaters during the height of the industry, but that’s now dwindled to only six. Slightly more than 300 drive-in movie theaters still operate in the U.S.
Other theaters operating in Minnesota are the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo, Starlite 5 Drive-In in Litchfield, Verne Drive-In in Luverne, Sky-Vu Drive-In in Warren and the Elko Speedway, which opened a drive-in theater in 2014 using a screen from the shuttered Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove.
In Long Prairie, Claseman said the nostalgia of the oldies music blaring and the family-friendly experience draws a growing number of visitors from all over to the theater and camping area each year, thanks in part to social media. Hundreds of cars will pack in for the evening films, which are mostly shown Fridays through Sundays (tickets cost $6 for ages 11 and up).
Once the theater reopens in September, Claseman said it could remain open through October, weather permitting.
“Hopefully we’ll be busy,” she said. “It’s more than a business — you get really strong [community] ties.”