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Bob Grandpre, of Bethlehem shows Ron Michaud (middle) of Southington and Janice Pinto (left) of Wolcott his 1932 Ford pick-up truck at the Southington Drive-In in Southington on Friday July 22, 2011. Prior to "American Graffiti" being shown at the drive-in, vintage cars were on display for the audience to check out. Southington Drive-In has movies playing every Saturday night through September 3, 2011. (Matt Andrew/ Record-Journal)

Wallingford theater owner hopes to open a drive-in

WALLINGFORD — Drive-in theaters were once the place to be on a Saturday night. Holiday Cinemas owner Robert Laflamme thinks that could happen again.

Laflamme dreams of opening a new drive-in theater and is convinced area residents would support it if he could just find a suitable location.

Laflamme has owned many theaters over the past 40 years, including drive-ins in Watertown, Middletown and Naugatuck. The drive-ins were sold years ago. He opened the Holiday Cinemas multiplex on Route 5 in 2005.

“Our roots are in the drive-in theater,” he said. “That’s where we started out.”

He’s been exploring the possibility of openining another drive-in for years, he said, and has already purchased outdoor screens and a projecter. The holdup has been finding an affordable piece of property. Around seven to nine acres is needed.

“We would love to do it in Wallingford,” Laflamme said.

The property would have to be relatively flat and come at a low price, LaFlamme said. Drive-ins in New England are typically closed for five months of the year so they aren’t big money makers. One possibility is a piece of property with past environmental issues, he said.

The former Meriden landfill, located partially in Wallingford and capped for years, would be ideal, Laflamme said. Town Planner Kacie Costello said the area is zoned for outdoor recreation, but the city of Meriden is unlikely to sell or lease the property.

Doreen DeSarro, business recruiter for the town’s Economic Development Commission, said most available land in town is too expensive for a seasonal business that needs seven to nine acres.

One option would be to purchase property and use it for a drive-in and another business. The Mansfield Drive-In is also home to a flea market.

Laflamme believes a drive-in will draw people from across the state who will frequent local businesses, he said, especially restaurants. DeSarro agreed, adding that the town should support the idea if Laflamme can find property.

The outdoor theater would show first-run movies, making it different than the nearby Southington Drive-In. The town-owned theater has raised $50,000 for local charities since 2010 showing mostly family-oriented vintage films on Saturdays in July and August. The drive-in also hosts a Halloween event.

LaFlamme said he tried to buy the Southington Drive-In before the town bought it.

Dawn Miceli, a Southington town councilor and member of the town drive-in committee, was skeptical about the viability of the idea.

She said the town tried to add a second showing on Friday nights “but we couldn’t fill the place.”

“The original for-profit drive-in went out of business because it couldn’t sustain itself,” she said. “People were not willing to go out every night and make it profitable for that entity.

“You cannot over saturate the market for this,” Miceli added.

But Laflamme is undeterred and has begun searching outside of Wallingford for a location.

He believes there is a market for a drive-in that shows first-run films.

“Economically we can do it if land were made available at the right price,” he said. “It’s not going to be an incredible money maker, but it would be a great addition to any town.” (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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