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Northfield Drive-In will be back next year

NORTHFIELD (August 3, 2-13) — Northfield Drive-In owner Mitchell Shakour said the outdoor movie theater had been in his family since his dad bought it in 1967, and remains a family business. His wife Carla runs the snack shop, Shakour said, son Gabriel takes photos and manages the drive-in's Facebook page, and daughter Lili can often be found helping out at the snack shop or ticket booth. Recorder/Trish Crapo

NORTHFIELD (August 3, 2-13) — Northfield Drive-In owner Mitchell Shakour said the outdoor movie theater had been in his family since his dad bought it in 1967, and remains a family business. His wife Carla runs the snack shop, Shakour said, son Gabriel takes photos and manages the drive-in's Facebook page, and daughter Lili can often be found helping out at the snack shop or ticket booth. Recorder/Trish Crapo

NORTHFIELD — Until showtime Saturday, Mitchell Shakour wasn’t sure whether his 65-year-old drive-in theater would close after this season.

“My wife and I decided that, if we could get 200 cars tonight, we’d stay open,” Shakour said on Saturday.

Faced with the need to convert to digital projection, and a slew of incidental upgrades, Shakour is facing costs of up to $200,000 to replace his antique projectors with the new technology.

By the time intermission came and Shakour announced the fate of the region’s last drive-in, the 400-car lot looked nearly full. Shakour himself wasn’t sure exactly how many attended Saturday night’s triple-feature.

“I stopped counting at 200 cars,” he admitted.

Though many came to hear the announcement of Shakour’s decision, others were taken by surprise by the possibility that the drive-in might close.

“I hadn’t heard that they may close,” admitted Jesse Brown of Turners Falls. “I’ve been coming here since I was a little girl, and it’s amazing every time.”

Her fiance, Carmello Ruiz, attended the outdoor theater for his first time Saturday.

“I like it. It would be a shame if they closed,” he said.

Ruiz celebrated his Friday birthday a day late at the drive-in, which, it turned out, was celebrating its own birthday.

The drive-in turned 65 Saturday, and it’s seen people come as kids with their families, later, as teenagers on dates, and years later, with their own children.

“I’m really glad they’re staying open,” said Rebekah Turner of Charlemont. “I’ve been coming since I was pregnant with my oldest child, 12 years ago.”

A mother of three, she only brought her oldest Saturday. Though kid-friendly “Smurfs 2” started the show, the comic-book action movie “The Wolverine” was a little too violent for her younger ones and the comedy “Grown Ups 2” was a little too, well, grown up for them.

Her husband, Michael Canon, remembered when there were more drive-ins in the area. Though he’s traveled the country, as far as the West Coast, he hasn’t seen many other drive-in theaters.

“They’re few and far between,” he said. “I wish there were more of them.”

The owner is glad he’ll be back next year, though the decision wasn’t one he took lightly.

“I feel like a 100-pound weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” said a noticeably relaxed Shakour after intermission. “I don’t know what we would’ve done if there were 199 cars.”

“Now, the tough part comes,” he said, referring to the costly upgrades. “There go my retirement savings.”

Though special events like a classic movie night during the week could have helped raise money for the conversions, it’s extremely hard to get a hold of reels for older movies and, in many cases, impossible.

“After the conversion, it’s as simple as renting a Blu-ray and calling the movie company to work out showing rights,” he said.

Once the conversion is complete, Shakour said he’ll be able to do all kinds of things, including rent the theater out for private parties, who will be able to choose just about any movie they can find on DVD.

He’s also thought about getting an Internet connection for downloading hard-to-find films or a satellite feed, so he can show live sporting events. Though he’d have to forego admission fees for the latter, he’d be able to sell hot dogs, burgers, fried foods and other concessions to hungry sports fans.

Those concessions are where the drive-in makes its money anyway, as most of the ticket sales go to Hollywood.

Shakour said the drive-in is not a big profit-making business, and some years barely breaks even. It’s more a labor of love, a love of the drive-in and a love for what it means to the community.

“I’m so glad people have been so supportive of their drive-in,” said Shakour.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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