Midway Drive-In owner gets help from community to restore institution

Jul 25, 2014

This weekend a local Girl Scout troop is teaming up with the owner of the Midway Drive-In in Minetto to raise money to rebuild the decades old facility that was destroyed during a storm that struck the region July 8.

Midway Drive-In owner John Nagelschmidt says although the wooden screen tower was destroyed, it happened at a good time of day, when no customers had yet arrived at the facility. If it had hit later in the evening, he believes things could have been a lot worse.

"It happened 25 minutes before we were supposed to open the ticket booth," Nagelschmidt said. "My daughter was going to be in there and cars drive right through where the debris came down. It could have been tragic."

But the damage was more than Nagelschmidt anticipated, and his insurance coverage isn't enough to pay for all of the repairs that need to be done to reopen the drive-in.

"At first look at it, they thought it was a doable project at a price which was pretty similar to what I had it insured at," Nagelschmidt explained. "But when they went back to the boss and talked to the engineers, the engineers simply said we're not touching that, it's too big a wind sail."

His best option now is to put up a steel screen, and there's only one person in the country building them without going through a lot of engineering. Nagelschmidt adds that steel costs about three times more than wood.

"To get a replacement screen, it's going to be a monstrous investment, beyond my resources right now without draining my retirement," Nagelschmidt said.

But he says since the storm rolled through, there's been an outpouring of community support and some help from the Girl Scouts, encouraging him to rebuild and eventually reopen.

“I do hope to get her going. I’d feel like I was letting the public down if we didn’t get it going. Like people say, it’s an institution. I mean I’m just here looking after it for the time being.”

This weekend there will be two fundraisers going on to raise money to build the new screen and make the other repairs. At the Midway Drive-In, several members of Girl Scouts Troop 10101 will volunteer their time to sell shirts and bracelets. In the city of Oswego, others will charge for parking spaces close to this weekend's Harborfest celebration for $10, along with the shirts and bracelets.

Nagelschmidt says once the new steel screen is in place, the drive-in will have a very different look.

“The structure was old, but it had a nostalgic look to it," he said. "I know when we’re done, we’re going to have a modern looking steel structure, so it’s not going to look the same. But it is going to be a drive-in and come dark, what you’re looking at is a picture on the screen and the people on the grounds enjoying the movie. And I’d like to get back to that.”

For those unable to get to Harborfest or the drive-in, Nagelschmidt says people can also donate through a Facebook fundraising campaign.