SACO – Cars snaked onto the shoulder of Route 1 as people queued up around 7 p.m. Friday at the entrance to the Saco Drive-In.

They were there early to get a prime parking spot and enjoy a slice of Americana.

“It’s such a dying thing,” Jason Leavitt said of the drive-in tradition.

The Scarborough resident was there with Maureen Cott and her children Chloe, 11, and Tim, 13, and their friend Lucas Harris, 13. Leavitt remembers frequenting the drive-ins when he was younger and setting up a mattress in the bed of a pickup truck to enjoy the movie.

Friday night, the group lined up lawn chairs near the car and enjoyed root beer and popcorn as the sun set over the movie screen.

“I’m just glad to see someone continuing the tradition,” Leavitt said.

Two months into running the drive-in, business partners Ry Russell, Patric Brophy and Tyler Wells are glad, too.

“It’s a lot of peace of mind now because we’re running smoothly,” Brophy said.

Said Russell: “It’s surpassed our expectations.”

The three marketing students at the University of Southern Maine took over operations of the drive-in this spring after seeing a “for lease” sign on the marquis this winter. Now in its 72nd season, the drive-in is believed to be the oldest in Maine, and possibly the second-oldest in the country that is still in business.

“What really fed us was, as much support as there was, there was a lot of people who doubted the success of a drive-in,” Russell said. “We took that as motivation.”

Proving the naysayers wrong: seeing as many as 228 cars fill the field in front of the screen in one night, greeting regular customers at the gate and growing their fan base on Facebook to more than 8,350.

So is the fact that the business is grossing 20 percent to 25 percent more than it did last summer, even with competitive pricing.

Wells said the original plan was to charge $20 per car, a change from the previous year admission at $14 for the first two people plus $3 per additional passenger. After receiving feedback from customers, they knocked the price down to a flat $15 per car.

“We want to get people in here to experience the drive-in,” Wells said. “You can’t beat it as a family coming here.”

With a carload of family visiting from Maryland, Carmen Cullen of Livermore Falls said just that.

“Trying to get all these kids into a theater would (cost) an arm and a leg,” she said.

Cullen said she used to bring her children to the drive-in all the time, in their pajamas. It was a tradition she got to share with her grandchildren for the first time Friday night as they waited for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” to start, followed by “Super 8.”

Russell, Brophy and Wells have a little more than a month before they start their senior year at USM. They are taking what they’ve learned in the classroom and applying it, hoping the real-world experience this summer will make them more marketable after graduation.

As for plans to run the drive-in in the future, Russell said, “We’re still focusing on this summer.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]