Tim’s Turn: Rolling Up to the Revitalized Saco Drive-In
Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco, Maine—which opened in 1979—purchased the naming rights and the assets to the historic Saco Drive-In, which had been in operation since 1939. Located across from the water park, it is one of the oldest drive-ins in the U.S. and the oldest in Maine. The land upon which it operated for all those years was recently sold and the drive-in was forced to close, ceasing all showings in 2022.
As soon as Aquaboggan’s leadership team heard of the drive-in’s fate, the water park’s owners, Wesley and Judy Hurst, along with park general manager Ethan Mongue, made a quick decision that only lifelong residents of Saco would make.
“Let’s buy it and move the business to our side of the street,” declares Ethan.
The classic sign, considered an iconic local image, was part of the deal and was refurbished. The theater had a new digital projector, and the water park was told they could take all assets from the property after the sale.
Wesley built a new screen in the parking lot across from the main entrance and had the lot revitalized. The “new” Saco Drive-In opened to the public on Memorial Day 2023, with the double billing of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.”
“It was a no-brainer for us,” Mongue told me as we sat in his office looking over the parking lot at the projection shack and screen. While there were significant costs involved, existing infrastructure helped defray much of the cost.
The park closes at 5 p.m. and the cars are out of the parking lot in plenty of time to reopen for movie patrons at 8:15 p.m. No poles with speakers are needed, as the sound is broadcast on FM radio.
For most of the first season, a food truck doubled as a concession stand, but an unused room facing the parking lot was spruced up and turned into a walk-up concession stand. Movie-goers use the park’s bathrooms.
“Our opening weekend was a big success, but rainy and cool weather hampered our business through June and early July,” Ethan added. “Business picked up in mid-July and based on everything we are happy with our first full season.”
The theater was open Wednesday through Sunday during the season and Labor Day through Columbus Day on weekends. The cost per car was $25.
The theater not only expands the water park’s shoulder season, but it also provides another source for group sales. Ethan noted that he booked six corporate buyouts, as well as several fundraising and appreciation events that took place on a Monday or Tuesday.
“This is an area of our business we will definitely be expanding upon,” notes Ethan.
While there is some pushback from the locals who say the new operation is not the “real” Saco Drive- In, Ethan is quick to point out that the beloved community attraction would have permanently closed if not for Aquaboggan’s intervention.
“The issue here is that we stepped up and preserved a community asset,” says Ethan. “We kept a long-lasting local tradition alive and we are proud that we were able to do it.”