It’s a story that makes you grin like a kid who has just heard the family is going to the drive-in.
After a tough 18 months, Cherry Bowl Drive-in owner Laura Clark got a visit Thursday from a team of folks from American Honda bearing very good news: The Cherry Bowl was one of just five drive-ins across the country chosen to receive a high-tech digital projector valued at $80,000 that will enable it to continue showing first-run movies — and, hopefully, secure its future.
Last December, Laura’s husband Harry Clark died from injuries sustained in a tree-cutting accident in March of 2012. Not long after the accident the family said they feared for the Honor landmark’s future, since it was mostly through Harry’s sweat equity that the place had been able to stay afloat since the Clarks bought it in 1997.
But just three weeks after accident more than 100 people pitched in to get the drive-in ready for the season. Volunteers raked, scrubbed the kitchen, cleaned the theater’s mini-golf course and hooked up speakers. And the show went on, even after Harry’s death in December.
But there was more bad news. With the move industry ready to pull the plug later this year on 35-millimeter film distribution, many of the nation’s few remaining drive-ins — and many other small theaters — are in jeopardy because they can’t afford the $80,000 it will take to switch to digital projection so they can continue to show first-run movies.
Again, the community rallied, this time with some outside help. American Honda launched Project Drive In, a national contest to award digital projectors to five drive-ins across the nation to be awarded on the basis of online voting.
More than 2 million votes poured in for 121 drive-ins, and the Cherry Bowl — a tiny business in a tiny community in relatively remote northern Michigan — was one of the top five national vote getters. Incredible.
The Benzie County Chamber of Commerce helped lead the campaign.
“We’ve been blasting it out through Facebook and e-blasts, encouraging people to vote,” said chamber president Mary Carroll. “It’s a piece of history not just for Benzie County but for the entire country.”
So thanks to the Chamber and untold numbers of voters, the Cherry Bowl can keep going after 60 years of popcorn and movies under the stars.