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Midway Drive-In goes digital despite shortfall

Owners still hope to raise funds for recent upgrades

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:21 a.m. CDT

STERLING – Two years of fundraising fell far short of the goal, but Midway Drive-In and Diner has made the switch to digital technology anyway.

Theater owners Mike and Mia Kerz of Niles are putting the finishing touches on the new equipment and structural upgrades, but the new season was launched with digital technology.

“We were able to install everything for the May 2 showing of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ and ‘RobCop,’” Mia Kerz said.

The Kerzes own one of only 11 remaining outdoor theaters in Illinois. The digital dilemma was the last straw for some theater owners who were already struggling to make drive-ins financially viable in a state where it is a seasonal business.

The Midway owners said they could have opened without the new technology this season, but they would have been limited in what they could offer.

“We couldn’t have shown many first-run movies without digital,” Mia Kerz said. “Some studios aren’t even producing film anymore.”

The Kerzes said the price tag was close to their original fundraising estimate of $120,000. The tweaking is largely related to retrofitting the building to house the weather-sensitive equipment.

“Climate controls are in place to deal with the humidity,” Mia Kerz said. “These 1950s buildings are not really good for state-of-the-art technology.”

Kerz declined to divulge how much money they have raised for the project.

“Let’s just say we’re not close to $120,000,” she said. “We supplemented with our own funds.”

The couple, who call the drive-in theater “a labor of love,” say they rely on other jobs to keep it afloat.

“This is a landmark that should be preserved,” Mike Kerz said. “Some of my fondest memories are of going to the drive-in with my family.”

The Kerzes are still trying to raise money for the costly upgrade. They keep a bucket near the concessions area and are accepting donations through the theater’s website at www.themidwaydrivein.net and on its Facebook page.

The digital sound will be showcased with a simulcast of a Jimmy Buffett concert from Texas. The show, at 8:45 p.m. June 19, is part of a Live at the Drive-In music series that will be shown nationwide.

The Midway has been open – weather permitting – since it was built in 1950. The Kerzes bought the business in 2007, after spotting it through their association with a drive-in theater organization.

The response of the community has helped the owners to get through some rough patches.

“When you see so many families come in, and the look on their faces,” Mike Kerz said, “it makes it all worthwhile.”

Next showing

Double feature

– "Maleficent"

– "Captain America – The Winter Soldier"

Friday and Saturday

Gates open at 7:15 p.m.; shows begin at 8:30 p.m.

Adults (12 and older) – $8.50

Children (3 to 11 years) – $4

Children (2 and younger) – Free

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