Moviegoers watch “Grease” in September 2022 on the second-to-last night of the season at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — The owner of the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre has announced the landmark will reopen for another summer, but he says a creative business plan is needed to generate additional revenue and maintain operations until a new owner is found.

Don Brown said new solutions are needed to keep the drive-in going. He is hosting a flea market this spring, for example, to make use of the land during the off-season.

It opened in 1953 and is one of about 300 drive-ins still operating across the country, and one of a handful still open in Maine following the closure last year of drive-ins in Bangor and Saco.

“The movie theater industry is in a different state now. The studios switched a lot of their content during the (COVID-19) pandemic to streaming platforms,” Brown said. “That was sort of adopted by the audience, and it has left theaters without the steady audience that they had week to week.”

Maddi Roy greets moviegoers as they arrive in July 2021 for a screening of the documentary film “Fighting Indians” at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road. The owner of the drive-in, Don Brown, says the theater will reopen this summer as he works to find a buyer. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

Owning a drive-in in Maine year-round presents a series of challenges. Long winters, and the ensuing mud season, mean the Skowhegan drive-in is only open a few months a year.

Proceeds brought in by movie admissions, Brown said, are wildly unpredictable.


“It’s an absolute rollercoaster,” he said.

In a good year, he said he can earn more than $100,000 from admissions. In a bad year, he earns a fraction of that.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it presented an opportunity for the airy outdoor venue, which became the site of a few music and comedy shows that Town Manager Christine Almand said were “really successful.”

Volunteers direct traffic to the ticket booth in July 2020 for opening night of the Maine International Film Festival at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Brown said in addition to the upcoming flea market, he has been thinking up other ways to bring people to the space in the off-season to support the summer screenings.

Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development, said he has heard of profitable drive-ins in Florida hosting flea markets, and that coming up with new uses for the Skowhegan theater will make it easier to maintain business.

“I don’t see how you can survive with all the costs of the facility and only use it a few hours in three, four months,” Hewett said.


Much of Brown’s focus is on positioning the drive-in to become attractive to a buyer. He said he expects to decide soon on a real estate agency to list and market the property at 201 Waterville Road.

“Ultimately, I’ve put in a lot of effort and resources into restoring the drive-in, and I really don’t want it to fail during my watch,” said Brown, who lives most of the year in Delaware. “I’d like to have the drive-in continue under someone else’s stewardship for many years to come.”

Moviegoers buy snacks in September 2022 before watching “Grease” on the second-to-last night of the season at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre at 201 Waterville Road. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Brown said he would like to see a community group take over and run it as a nonprofit organization, especially since it would introduce new avenues of funding to which private, for-profit businesses do not have access.

Hewett said that with $650 million in development projects now underway in Skowhegan, he thinks community groups in the area are largely tied up with their own projects.

“It’s gonna have to be a local person that takes it on,” Hewett said.

Brown said aside from thinking up new uses for the space, the most obvious solution to keeping the drive-in open is for more people to attend screenings. He also said he thinks town officials could be doing more to help promote the business and assist with needed screen repairs.


Hewett said the town has helped the drive-in over the years, and has set aside about $10,000 for repairs. He said Brown must find one of the few contractors who can do the kind of screen repairs that are needed.

Losing the theater, Brown said, would be a loss of cultural heritage for the area.

“It’s a very unique experience during the summer,” he said. “The movies are very different, the cars are very different, but the experience of sitting out there and watching the movie on a giant screen on a starlit night is the same as it was back in 1953.”

Almand said people in town have a “sweet spot” for the drive-in, and she hopes Brown is able to generate enough local interest to keep the theater going.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.