Theaters seeking help to stay afloat

GIBSON CITY — Mike Harroun, owner of the Harvest Moon Twin Drive In Movie Theatre, doesn't count himself among the nation's 1 percent.

"I'm not one of the rich. I'm a working-class guy. I'm Joe the Plumber. Unfortunately, Momma didn't leave me a silver spoon," he said.

He's not complaining. He said in the past 23 years, he's done something he enjoys: owning and operating, with the help of family, the Harvest Moon, some 30 miles north of Champaign.

He said he might not be able to do it much longer if the theater doesn't raise $120,000 to buy digital projection equipment as the movie industry moves to all digital releases this and next year.

So far, Harvest Moon has raised $17,250, mainly by selling chances to win a 1967 Mustang. Pam Jeffries of Roberts was the lucky ticket holder.

Her name was drawn earlier this month at a fundraising event at the drive-in; it featured live music by seven bands and inflatables for the kids.

But it was not as successful as Harroun had hoped. Friends told him the reason was he didn't sell alcohol.

So, like other hard-hit movie theaters, including the Onarga Theatre, Harvest Moon has turned to online fundraising via Kickstarter, which bills itself as the world's largest funding platform for creative projects.

Here's how it works: People go to a Kickstarter project they support and pledge a certain amount of money. The organization trying to raise the money must set a goal. If the goal is not met by a certain deadline, Kickstarter does not charge the bank accounts or credit cards of people who made pledges.

So far, Harvest Moon has raised $37,200 in Kickstarter pledges toward the $120,000 goal. The deadline for pledges is Sept. 28.

"If we do hit the goal at that time, that's the day the credit cards and bank accounts get charged," said Ben Harroun, manager of Harvest Moon and Mike's son.

"If we don't hit the goal by that deadline, all of the $37,000 pledged disappears, and we're back in the same boat trying to see what we can do to continue to stay open to the end of the year."

The Onarga Theatre, which is 48 miles north of Champaign, opened its Kickstarter effort last week. So far people have pledged $2,066. The Onarga Theatre Kickstarter goal is $50,000; the deadline is Oct. 18.

Onarga Theatre co-owner Randy Lizzio estimates he needs $65,000 altogether to convert to digital projection at his single-screen movie house, which shows mainly first-run movies.

He's already raised $9,700 through fundraisers, including free screenings of classic movies. People who show up are asked to make donations.

Among other fundraisers planned by the theater are a variety show Oct. 7 and a speakeasy in the near future. The village granted Lizzio a one-day liquor license for the speakeasy.

"If it doesn't happen through Kickstarter, we'll find another way. We'll keep fighting," he vowed.

Regarding its Kickstarter campaign, the Harrouns said all it would take to succeed would be 200 persons each pledging $500.

Harvest Moon recently doubled the rewards for moviegoers who pledge at high levels. For a $500 donation, for example, the person or family would receive eight movie passes that would allow one person per pass to go to as many movies as possible during a season at Harvest Moon.

"If you want to come out 10 times and you bring eight people, each person gets in free for those 10 times," Ben said. "They get popcorn and pop, T-shirts, hoodies. With a few trips, you cover your pledge. You're getting well above and beyond the value of what you're pledging.

"It's a way for people to pre-pay for coming to the drive-in, in a way."

Because Harvest Moon is open only six months a year, it does not qualify for the virtual print fees that movie companies give larger theaters, Mike Harroun said. The eligibility requirements for those are stacked against drive-ins and smaller independent movie theaters, he said.

"They literally bought the equipment for big theaters," he said. "For the little guys, they did nothing. They just left us hanging."

When some people ask why Harvest Moon, a for-profit venture which does a brisk business, needs to ask for donations to pay for digital projection equipment, Mike Harroun said those people don't understand his business.

He said Harvest Moon doesn't get to keep much of its gross.

The drive-in, which shows first-run movies, has to pay the movie companies and for electricity and other expenses.

"What people don't understand is the film companies keep most of your money anyway," Mike Harroun said. "I have a good business; everything I have is paid for, but it's a $120,000 minimum to put (the digital projection) equipment in."

And because Harvest Moon is open half a year, Harroun feels he can't ask for a bank loan.

"Banks don't really care much for part-time businesses," he said. "I do 90 percent of my business in probably two months."

Harroun also owns Angel Services, an automotive repair shop in Onarga, where he lives. It donated the Mustang to the fundraiser.

Harroun used to own the Onarga Theatre but sold it a few years ago to Randy and Cheryl Lizzio, who also live in Onarga.

The Harrouns said if they don't reach their fundraising goals, Harvest Moon won't remain open.

"We're hoping we can make our goals," Mike said. "That's all we can do. Two hundred people at $500 or 400 at $250 — if you break it down that way, it doesn't seem that bad.

"We will throw a big party if we make it, and all of those people will be invited."

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alukeman wrote on September 25, 2012 at 9:09 am

Here's the link to the Kickstarter campaign, if you'd like to pledge: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139195687/rescue-the-iconic-harvest-moon-drive-in-theatre-fr

buffster76 wrote on September 25, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Although my family will be fine if the Harvest Moon closes because we can always sell the land, we would prefer that it remain open as it was built by my dad as a drive-in movie theatre. I know that he would want it to stay a drive-in movie theatre if at all possible. I have pledged all that I can afford to keep the Harrouns' dream alive, but the time is growing short. I still hold out hope that a miracle will occur and the money will be raised. Thank you to everyone who has donated and pledged so far. I know my dad looks down and smiles at the fight going on to save his drive-in.