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Fairlee Drive-In Promises To Stay Open

Fairlee — A last-minute surge of pledges to a Kickstarter campaign that ends today may not help the Fairlee Drive-In’s current effort to purchase a business-saving projector, but it has given the owners hope for a future effort.

If this campaign fails to reach the $77,200 that the drive-in needs to purchase and install new digital projection equipment, a new fundraising attempt will be launched immediately, said Peter Trapp, who owns and operates the drive-in and the Fairlee Motel with his wife, Erika.

“When we signed up for Kickstarter, we didn’t exactly know what we were doing. We only signed up for a month, and I don’t think a lot of people knew about it until recently,” Peter Trapp said. (There’s a link to the Kickstarter campaign at the drive-in’s website, www.fairleedrivein.com.)

Last week, the Trapps had raised $22,200 toward their goal, and most of the pledges were made during the last few days, he said. “We’re going to start it up immediately and run it longer, but if this doesn’t work, we’ll look at other possibilities. We’re not going to close.”

When the Trapps took over the motel and theater in 2003, they replaced the projector that had been showing movies in Fairlee for 53 years with a new $40,000 system. Now, although Trapp said it probably has another 30 years of life in it, that projector is being made obsolete because movies on 35mm film are being phased out in favor of digital versions.

“We just don’t have the money for a new projector — it’s really just a computer — and there’s not a lot of money in running a drive-in that would justify us borrowing $77,000,” the amount needed for the projector and a new digital sound system. “The business can’t pay it back. That’s why we’re asking for help.”

So far, only one movie studio has switched over to digital entirely and stopped producing 35mm films, so the theater can continue to use the current projector for a while longer. “It slows us down getting films, and we can’t always get the movies we want, and that’s not good for business,” he said.

The drive-in will open in April or as soon as weather permits. “One year, there was so much snow that we couldn’t get to the snack truck. We’re very dependent on the weather, but we like to open in April when people want to get out and do things after being cooped up all winter.”

The summer months are always the most popular time for the theater, which is open every day. “I’ll show a movie to one car if that’s all that’s here. If you say you’re open, you have to be open.”

And staying open for the long run isn’t entirely dependent on the outcome of the fundraising effort, Trapp said.

“We’ll do whatever we have to do to keep it open. This theater has been here a long time, and we want to keep it going.”