By Chris Shaffer

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At one point in Minnesota’s history, there were close to 90 drive-in theaters.

Now, with changes in technology and real estate costs, that number is down to about six.

Of those survivors, our viewers voted the Long Drive-In in Long Prairie as the best in the state. It’s been serving central Minnesota since 1956.

“It is a big gathering point for everybody,” said projectionist Dave Hilsgen.

Webster defines “nostalgia” as a sentimental longing, or wistful affection for the past. And that is exactly what co-owner Dan Claseman is selling — at only $7 a pop.

“It’s all about the people,” Claseman said. “The gates open at 6:30 and the movies don’t start in the middle of summer until ten o’clock.”

long drive in WCCO Viewers’ Choice For Best Drive In In Minnesota

(credit: CBS)

Movies are a form of escapism, where people can go for a short time to put their troubles on hold. At the Long Drive-In, it seems a lot of people are just plain moving in.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Grease” was the double feature on the night we visited, and the guests have surely dressed for the occasion.

“It’s a sense of community,” Hilsgen said.

He has been working at various places in the industry since he was just a kid in the early 70s.

“My passion has always been for the drive-ins,” Hilsgen said.

Claseman says he can’t help getting sucked into the movies himself.

“We tell people, ‘Get out of your car. You need to sit outside with the trees moving,’” Claseman said.

Truth be told, there really is something magical about watching a film under the stars.

“And see how much fun people are having,” Hilsgen said. “Especially watch the younger people that never come to a drive-in before. To have that experience, that’s why I want to keep this going, so it will never die.”

The Long Drive-In normally shows first-run films. Owners Michelle and Dan Claseman say much of the credit for the drive-in’s current success should go to Michelle’s parents. They kept it open during the 80s and 90s when the industry was really struggling.

The Clasemans say the drive-in really belongs to the community it serves.

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