Every community has its landmarks. We all know the big ones. New York has the Statue of Liberty, Boston has Faneuil Hall, even my little town of Salisbury, MA has a couple of institutions that have been around forever. Some of these places have come and go from time to time. Salisbury saw a long standing diner get sold because of the pandemic. When this happens, you usually see a quick show of support for the business, followed by a farewell period of business just booming. Other times, the business just goes out without any notice and the community at large doesn’t get a chance to get their final experience.
In the situation I write about today, we had a business that took the second approach.
Back in February, the owners of the legendary Saco Drive In Theater on Route 1 in Saco, ME closed its doors after decades of operation in the area. The parent company, Roberge Construction blamed the pandemic, rising costs, supply chain issues and a lack of business for its closing and sale.
Personally, I honestly could not have cared less about this issue, until Barstool Sports podcaster Kirk Minihane held a live show at the drive in. I went and had a great time there. It was a great environment and couldn’t have had more fun both times I went.
When the closing was mentioned, I was very sympathetic. A small business got killed by capacity limits and the pandemic. We saw this kind of stuff happening left and right. So I decided to do my due diligence in order to see what was going on.
First, I reached out to the “Save_The_Saco_Drive-In” Twitter account, who had posted a Change.org petition to try to save the historic theater which you can sign here: https://www.change.org/p/save-the-historic-saco-drive-in-theater-from-demolition?recruiter=914906367&recruited_by_id=afb51e80-ea86-11e8-aca4-4f9c0898cfb6&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=petition_dashboard&fbclid=IwAR10n66zvzUHx7sV54JqrQffAm6DXstPkHAslexm1WIUMY0pdTYuTArsu1E
I was then referred to the Facebook page for more information.
On Facebook, I found very passionate people doing their best to try and save the landmark that has been there since 1939. I saw some posting photos of their time there, and reminiscing about their grandparents telling them stories about their childhoods. I also found a post from local politician Justin Chenette’s website about the drive in. If you are interested in reading that remembrance here it is: https://www.justinchenette.com/latest-news/what-the-drive-in-means-to-our-community?fbclid=IwAR2Wu8tbHkMy4YcyQ4Y9OA-Q9V7YSYNy5Y8VuC84hnWYsBpbYrj3XxOJrLA
In scrolling through the Facebook page, I found the company that had purchased the land from Roberge Construction. I reached out to Hale Trailer Brake and Wheel. What I got in response was a very generic, corporate style response. Here is their complete response: “while we appreciate the concern for the loss of a former beloved community landmark, the decision to close the Saco Drive-In and sell all projection equipment was made by the previous owner, prior to Hale Trailer purchasing the land. We have donated all signage and historic items to a local business for preservation. Hale Trailer has been a part of the Southern Maine community for over 38 years and we look forward to continuing to support the local economy and community. Thank you.” I also saw that a lot of people in the community had gotten the same generic response. Which makes a lot of sense. I’m sure they were getting flooded with questions from Saco residents.
After this response, I reached out to a few people who were postin on the Facebook page. I got a response from a page called “TheDrive InGuys” (based in Connecticut). This person claims to have contacted someone in Hale Trailer’s corporate office in New Jersey. In my conversation with TheDrive InGuys, he claimed that he offered to lease the space from Hale and was declined. Also, he claimed that Hale was offered a “land-swap” deal from the city of Saco, which was also declined. This person also claimed that Hale said the “equipment” was gone.
I also found some people attacking Hale for purchasing the space. Cris Hart posted on Hale’s Facebook page asking, “Are customers aware of the destruction of one of AMERICAS LAST DRIVE IN THEATERS that is planned by Hale, even though a land swap has been offered by the town of Saco Maine?”
So as you can tell, there’s a little anger and frustration with the sale. I get the historical aspect, but this anger was a little much. Then I learned that the community worked incredibly hard back in 2013 to win a Honda sponsored contest to give a drive-in movie theater enough money to buy new digital equipment. This effort saved the theater itself from closing.
Now I know why people are so upset with this sale. They feel betrayed by owners after all of the work they did way back in 2013. And I can understand that. But that was 9 years ago. The drive-in has been in business ever since then. According to Roberge’s statement, it has been struggling for quite some time. You know who the residents of Saco have to blame for that? Themselves.
If the residents had patronized the drive-in more, then this wouldn’t even be an issue. It’s Psychology 101. They are mad at themselves for letting the theater get into that situation, so they take it out on Hale Trailer which just made a land purchase. These folks are even getting mad at Hale for not taking a “land-swap” deal. If I was in this situation I wouldn’t have taken it either. They legally bought a piece of land for their business and weren’t going to take something they didn’t want instead. If the residents cared that much, they would have scraped up some cash and bought the space. Or better yet, just go there instead of staying home and watching Netflix.
I know this is going to make a lot of these folks angry at me, but it’s true. When people are faced with a truth that makes them look bad, they rarely react reasonably. But even as I was writing this piece, I saw an announcement. Here it is:
So Saco Drive-In fans and city residents, you’ve been bailed out again. It took another local business, which is across the street, to give you another chance. So I suggest when Aquaboggan opens the relocated theater, you actually go there and show it the love you claim you have. Instead of ignoring it until it closes. Like the old saying tells us, you don’t know what you had until it’s gone.