Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 18, 2013

Cherry Bowl fighting for its future

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — HONOR — A night at the Cherry Bowl Drive In is like taking a trip back in time.

Honor’s movie landmark is all about the authentic 1950s feel, with its old-fashioned speakers, the "Let's all go to the lobby" intro and a 1953 popcorn popper that churns out the real butter-flavored treat at the concession stand.

“Even the mustard and ketchup dispensers on the wall -- those are original,” said Cherry Bowl owner Laura Clark. “We try to keep as much history as we can.”

But these days, there’s no denying the future at the iconic Benzie County business. The movie industry is transitioning completely over to digital, meaning the Cherry Bowl is in danger of becoming history if it can’t raise about $80,000 to fund a new digital projector.

“This is the last year they are going to be making 35 mm film, and without 35 mm film, we won’t have a movie to play,” Clark said. “Without us converting to digital, we’ll be just a big screen in the middle of Honor with no movies. We need help.”

Clark said the Cherry Bowl is in danger of closing without the new projector. She and Benzie County business leaders are hoping northern Michigan residents will rally behind the Cherry Bowl, either through financial contributions to help pay for the projector or by participating in a unique contest that could land the Cherry Bowl the much needed digital equipment.

Honda Motor Co. launched a campaign to raise awareness about the state of drive-in movie theaters in America: part of the campaign involves the giveaway of five new digital projectors to five drive-in theaters.

The Cherry Bowl can win the new projector from Honda if enough people go to the website and vote for the Cherry Bowl. Participants can vote once a day, every day, through Sept. 9. They also can vote by text at 444 999 vote61, with 61 being the identifier for the Benzie County drive-in.

"We've been blasting it out through Facebook and eblasts, encouraging people to vote," said Mary Carroll, president of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce. "It’s a piece of history not just for Benzie County but for the entire country. Drive-in theaters are an iconic part of our country, and I think it would be very sad to lose such an iconic business through no fault of their own."

The Cherry Bowl was built in 1953. Clark and her late husband, Harry, bought the business in 1997 and it's had a nice run since. The line to enter the drive-in is often long, particularly on weekends, as dusk descends on one of northern Michigan's most scenic areas.

Clark hopes the Cherry Bowl will be a part of Benzie County's future for a long time to come -- with the public's help.

"We are very family friendly," Clark said. "We don’t play anything stronger than PG 13 ... and people know they can bring their kids here and have fun, making memories with their children."