At the Drive-In
It’s Memorial Day weekend, rainy and unseasonably cool. What better way to dismiss Mother Nature and jump into summer mode than to head out to see a drive-in movie? Expressions such as “blast from the past,” “retro” and “throwback” popped into my head as I pondered my return to a drive-in theater for the first time in 30 or so years. Mentioning that this would be my family’s kickoff to the holiday weekend triggered one common response: “I didn’t know there was still a drive-in around. Where is it?” The closest drive-in to the Merrimack Valley is in Milford, N.H., about 11 miles north of Nashua. The Milford Drive-In has been in existence since 1958 and has been owned by the Scharmett family since 1969. (Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine.)
Waxing nostalgic, my thoughts turned to the drive-in that my sister and I went to with our parents on Route 110 in Methuen (the site is now an office park), so I invited my sister and her family to come to the Milford Drive-In for the fun and fond memories. Back then, the drive-in meant putting on our pajamas and hopping into Dad’s Volare station wagon, and then hooking a clunky speaker onto the side window in order to get sound.
Nowadays at Milford, you simply tune your car radio into the designated station. You might also find folks today backing into their parking spot rather than having the front of their vehicle facing the screen. They’ll pop the hatch of their SUV or van and set up chairs, canopies, games and food.
Many arrive hours in advance to secure a prime viewing spot and to play on the grounds. Little kids might find themselves on the swing set, while teens and adults pass the time by throwing a football or playing cards.
Inclement weather did not deter us or the many other moviegoers who showed up to see the just-released “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” The drive-in’s second screen, added in 1984, was showing “Godzilla.” Late-nighters have the option to hang around for each screen’s second feature. You can really get your money’s worth for $25 per car. If, however, you’re thinking about cramming a dozen people into one vehicle, know that $5 is charged for every additional passenger over six.
My brood opted for two cars, with a total of eight people and one dog. Yes, dogs are welcome. Once settled into our spots, which were clearly defined by the speaker poles of yesteryear, we were off to hit the concession stand and load up on movie-night treats. I was impressed by the vast assortment of options. Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, classic big-bucket popcorn, candy, fountain soda, slushies and cotton candy were all available, among many other things.
This felt like a quintessential American outing, and thanks to the Milford Drive-In, we were able to share it with our children, who, like rest of their generation, have come to define entertainment by what they can see on their hand-held devices.
I loved the simplicity and authenticity of this experience and was happy that much of it was just as I had remembered. No bells and whistles, just a movie on an outdoor screen, yummy munchies, good company and a fun buzz in the air as fellow viewers awaited the flick. The Scharmett family has done a nice job of keeping this entertainment novelty true to its roots.
Bob Scharmett and his two sons, Barry and Steve, operate the Milford Drive-In from mid-April through September. Barry and Steve were 7 and 4 years old when their father and mother, Fay, purchased the business. Fay, who has since passed away, had been involved in the drive-in business since she was 10. She and Bob both had a passion for this nearly bygone attraction.
New Jersey was home to the first drive-in movie theater, built in 1933. By 1958, it is reported that more than 4,000 existed across the United States. That number was down to 357 in 2013, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. Despite the dramatic decline, the Scharmett family recognizes the value of their drive-in theater, and how it helps to keep a piece of American history alive.
“I really enjoy being there and seeing all of the people come in,” Bob Scharmett says. ”I see a lot of people that I saw when they were children, and now they are adults and grandparents.”
The Scharmetts have taken the Milford Drive-In from reel projection to digital. They show movies rain or shine, and are committed to giving their patrons an enjoyable viewing experience with the latest releases.
“We have a big family business, and people like to watch the movies on a big screen,” Bob Scharmett says. “Every Friday there is a brand new movie. We have a tremendous amount of regulars.”
If you’ve never been to a drive-in or if it’s been years, like it was for me, it is most definitely worth the trip. I am glad my children could take part in this classic movie experience.
Milford Drive-In Movie Theater
To find other drive-in theaters across the U.S. visit Drive-Ins.com.