Moviegoers gather last September to watch “Grease” at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — After screening movies for 70 years, the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre will close for good this weekend, according to its owner.

The six films the theater is scheduled to show Friday and Saturday will not only mark the end of the theater’s season, but the end of its operations for good, Don Brown said Tuesday.

The drive-in theater opened in 1953, and Brown has owned it since 2012. When the theater at 201 Waterville Road closes, Maine will be left with three traditional, or authentic, drive-in theaters.

Brown said the theater has been sold for $300,000 to Harvey Austin of Skowhegan, who owns a mobile home park.

Brown said while he does not know Austin’s intentions for the 11-acre property, Brown knows Austin has no interest in maintaining operations. Attempts to reach Austin this week for comment through his real estate agent, Aaron Bolster of Allied Realty, were unsuccessful.

All of the theater’s equipment, including projectors and concession stands, are to be sold to other drive-ins in New England and one in Nebraska. The 60-foot-high screen is immovable and needs repainting. Brown said he does not know whether Austin has a plan for it.


For Brown, who has managed several drive-in theaters in New England since 1983, this is a somber week that has been a long time coming.

Moviegoers prepare last September to watch “Grease” on the big screen at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

The popularity of drive-in theaters peaked in the 1950s, with more than 3,000 built nationwide from 1948 to 1958, according to From 1987 to 1990, the number of drive-in theaters in the United States decreased to about 900 from 2,500.

Maine reflects that trend. In the 1960s, there were as many as 39 drive-in theaters across the state, Brown said, but attendance has been dropping off since the 1980s. All but six of Maine’s drive-in theaters had shuttered their operations by 1990.

After this weekend, there will be three traditional ones remaining in Maine: the Bridgton Twin Drive-In Theatre, the Skylite Drive-In in Madawaska and Prides Corner Drive-In in Westbrook.

There are many reasons for the closure of drive-in theaters across the nation, Brown said, but most significantly, it is families — a drive-in’s key demographic — who have increasingly chosen to stay home to watch movies. First it was with VCRs, then DVDs and today it is streaming.

Eshani Chakrabarti greets film fans who are arriving in July 2021 for a screening of the documentary “Fighting Indians” at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road.  Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

“A younger generation of media consumers has chosen to access the content that’s of interest to them right in the palm of their hand, on their mobile device or on their laptop or home computer,” Brown said. “The audience that is going to the movies is older, and Hollywood has shifted its focus to sequels and superheroes.”


Aside from older audiences not staying out late to watch movies, and companies — such as Disney — that now reserving much of their retro programming for streaming, Brown said an order by the Office of the Maine Attorney General in 2016 to prohibit smoking at drive-in theaters also hurt business.

At this time last year, Brown decided to keep the drive-in theater open for one more season as he tried to find a buyer to maintain operations. A couple of people reached out to him about taking over the business, but Brown said they did not make competitive offers.

“A drive-in is a business that can no longer stand on its own,” he said. “I think it’s really an achievement for everyone who’s still in the business today.”

Chaz Wing, manager of the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road, stands Wednesday at the theater. Zara Norman/Morning Sentinel

The theater has a 368-vehicle capacity and in its heyday screened films daily, sometimes cramming more than 400 cars into the theater for a showing, according to the drive-in’s manager, Chaz Wing. The venue has not sold out a show since 2016, he said, and while the movie “Barbie” half filled the theater for two weekends, allowing the drive-in to break even, attendance was poor.

“There was a Saturday night we had eight cars,” Wing said Wednesday. “Even though the place is able to cover its expenses, that doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. It messes with your head, staying out till 1 a.m. to play for only (a few) cars.”

The Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre was able to survive the conversion from 35 mm film to digital projection equipment in the 2010s, but cannot hope to keep up with the pace of repairs. Wing said he received a quote for $3,500 this summer to repaint the theater’s screen, but he could not hope to accept it.


Brown probably does not net that much money in an entire year running the theater, Wing said.

Wing, who lives in Brunswick, said between gas money and tolls, it probably costs him money to continue managing the theater, but the 24-year-old said he would have done it forever, if possible.

“It’s been going for 70 years, and I’m the poor (expletive) that’s going to shut the lights off on it,” Wing said, looking around the storage closet that was once the manager’s office. “I’m trying hard to stay positive.”

When asked about expected attendance for this weekend’s shows, Wing took a shaky breath, checked presale numbers on his cellphone and laughed. Only six cars had booked so far for Friday’s showings — “The War of the Worlds,” Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and “The Perfect Storm” — and a few more for Saturday, when “Smokey and the Bandit,” “The Shining” and “Twister” are planned.

Hopefully, Wing said, more people turn out those days. Tickets are $10 a person per night, and can be purchased online at the drive-in’s Facebook page, or with cash at the theater.

“To our handful of regulars, I tried my best and I’m sorry,” Wing said. “I wish I could have done more.”

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