The Campbell family gathers to watch “Despicable Me 3” at the Prides Corner Drive-In theater Tuesday night. The Westbrook landmark reopened Friday after being closed for more than a year. “We’re just happy they’re back,” said Mark Campbell, father of six. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

WESTBROOK — The Prides Corner Drive-In is back in business, serving up popcorn, burgers, fries and of course feature-length movies shown under starlit skies.

After taking last year off, the family-owned drive-in established in 1952 began showing “Despicable Me 3” and “The Mummy” starring Tom Cruise on Friday evening – during a torrential downpour.

The Westbrook drive-in will continue to show movies through September, and possibly October, but only on weekends during those months, manager Jeff Tevanian said. “A family from Lewiston drove down here to show their support,” he said Tuesday evening as moviegoers started parking their cars on the slightly inclined slopes that face the giant screen. Only three cars filled with loyal supporters showed up during the downpour Friday night. “We didn’t turn them away. There is rarely a time when we don’t stay open.”

Last year, Prides Corner Drive-In was closed for the season while Tevanian and his parents, Thelma and John Tevanian, restructured the business and planned to acquire a new digital projector, which cost approximately $75,000. They installed the projector in July.

Prides Corner had to adapt to the new technology or face closure. The nation’s 340 drive-ins have been scrambling to convert to digital projection as film distributors have nearly phased out film prints in place of much cheaper digital copies. All six of Maine’s drive-ins have now converted to digital.

For theaters, the benefit of digital is that the movie won’t degrade over time like film does. For a while, drive-ins could get enough 35 mm films to stay in operation, but Tevanian says that is no longer the case. He estimates he should be set for the next decade – unless of course the technology changes again.

LONGTIME TRADITION FOR FAMILY

Tevanian says this month’s digital debut is a soft reopening for the drive-in on Route 302 that his father, John Tevanian, built with his brothers, Avie and Herbert Tevanian. John Tevanian died in July. He was 91.

Jeff Tevanian, who has received a lot of encouragement and support from local officials and residents, said it made no sense to hold a grand opening at the end of the summer season.

He’s hoping that if all goes well, they will hold one next June.

Not much has changed at Prides Corner. The interior of the snack bar has a 1950s feel and Tevanian has taken care to recognize the drive-in’s history. Black-and-white photographs from its grand opening adorn the walls and there’s also a photograph of his father. One photograph shows children playing on a swing set and playground that the Tevanians erected a few feet in front of the outdoor projection wall.

For Karen and Matthew Stevenson of Westbrook, who have three young children, the drive-in’s reopening comes as wonderful news.

“This has been a longtime tradition for our family,” Karen Stevenson said, as her children, 7-year-old Schuyler, 5-year-old Ben, and 2-year-old Cora waited in the snack bar lobby for their food order.

Stevenson said the Prides Corner venue is perfect for her kids because they can play outside the car, throw Frisbees or run around.

“We didn’t get to see many movies last year because this place was closed,” Matt Stevenson said. He said taking the children to an enclosed movie theater with fixed seating can be challenging because they can get restless during a two-hour movie.

And the Stevensons point out that you can’t beat the price. Prides Corner charges $20 per car. If there are more than four people in a car, there is an added fee of $5 per person.

Matthew Stevenson, 37, grew up in Portland and said his parents took him to the Prides Corner Drive-in when he was a kid.

“It was a cool place to go when I was a kid. It still is,” he said.

‘ECSTATIC THAT THEY’RE OPEN AGAIN’

Mark Campbell and his wife brought their six children to Tuesday evening’s shows.

The Westbrook resident said he was disappointed when the drive-in closed last year. He had to bring his family to the Bridgton Twin Drive-In, which is operated by John Tevanian, Jeff’s brother, to get the same experience. He likes drive-ins because his family can spread out on blankets and chairs and it’s much less expensive than a regular theater.

“We’re just happy they’re back,” Campbell said.

Rob Dudley, 47, of Windham, and his daughter, Victoria, were the first patrons in line Tuesday evening.

“I’m ecstatic that they’re open again,” Dudley said. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve been coming to the drive-in. And the price is good. You’re basically getting to see two movies for the price of one.”

And the stars are free.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]