LACONIA — With digital projection fast replacing conventional film, the Weirs Drive-In Theater, one of four of its kind remaining in New Hampshire, may soon face the choice of going digital or going dark.
"Without digital we would have to close," said Pat Baldi, owner of the venerable venue, "but it's a big expense." With digital projectors costing approximately $75,000 apiece, Baldi estimates an investment of $300,000 will be required to light the four screens at The Weirs. "That is a lot of money when we have have just a ten-week season," she said.
To defray a share of the cost, Baldi has enrolled in "Project Drive-In," a competition sponsored by American Honda Motor Company. Honda has invited people to visit the website www.ProjectDriveIn.com, where they can vote for their favorite drive-in theater as well as pledge to contribute to the national "Save the Drive-in Fund" at the Weirs Drive-In Theater. Each of the five most popular drive-in theaters will receive a digital projector from Honda.
"Any help we can get will make this more affordable," Baldi said. She said that her grandson has mounted a campaign on the theater's Facebook page, reminding everyone they can vote on-line — ProjectDriveIn.com/vote_41 — or by text — VOTE41 to 444999 — every day until the polls close on September 9.
Built in 1949, the Weirs Drive-In Theater is one of only 368 remaining of some 4,000 that operated in 1950s according to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association. Of those that remain, about 140 have converted to digital projection. More than 90-percent of cinemas have made the change.
The three other drive-in theaters in New Hampshire are the Milford Drive-In in Milford, Northfield Drive-In in Hinsdale and Northern Nights Drive-In in Lancaster.
"We are the biggest drive-in in the state," said Baldi. "We don't want to close and we're looking at all our options."