By Caroline Murray
For the Express
The futures of both the Ozoner and El Rancho drive-ins are up in the air, as the owners continue to grapple with the movie industry’s push for pricey digital projectors.
After failing to win new equipment last year in a contest sponsored by American Honda Motor Co., owners Darci and Bill Wemple were not certain if they could make it through this summer’s drive-in season.
The last movie showing of the summer was Aug. 24, and Darci Wemple said the family-run business barely squeezed by with its out-dated film projectors.
In the coming months, the Wemples have the daunting task of deciding what to do next: close down two iconic drive-ins for good, or risk investing money in a financially unstable industry.
“We are at a crossroads,” Darci Wemple said. “Here we are almost 50 and we have to decide – which way do we want to start over?”
The Ozoner on Route 29 in Broadalbin was built by the Wemples in 2002, while the 62-year-old El Rancho in Palatine Bridge was purchased by the family in 1996.
Darci Wemple said the local drive-ins are among the few film venues left in New York state that have not switched to digital.
This presents the owners with a problem because the majority of today’s movies are produced digitally, and film production is becoming an antique trade.
“We are at the point where we need to switch to digital, or we will have nothing to show next year,” she said.
The cost of a digital projector is between $70,000 and $80,000 per unit, and the Wemples need three.
Darci Wemple said the family cannot afford the $240,000 price-tag, and are looking into purchasing used digital equipment.
However, digital projectors can cost more than $25,000 to repair and although purchasing used equipment is their best bet, Darci Wemple said they cannot justify buying old technology and risk pouring more money into it.
In addition to those expenses, Darci Wemple said the digital equipment has other costs such as new lighting hardware, heating and cooling ventilation, and impending renovations.
“Everyone seems so positive about new technology and the wave of the future, yet the wave of the future is costing us more,” she said.