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WCCO Viewers' Choice For MN's Best Drive-In

LONG PRAIRIE, Minn. (WCCO) -- At the Long Drive-In in Long Prairie, Minn., the show starts at sundown. But most people have already been there for hours, according to owner Dan Claseman.

"If you guys walked around tonight and you've seen some of the stuff where the families are sitting in the back of the truck, they're all sitting together," Claseman said.

The movie is the draw, but drive-in diehards Carl and Suzie Farber say they come for more than that.

"You go to a movie theater, people don't talk. I mean people can actually sit right down next to you and never even speak to you," Suzie said. "Where here at the drive-in, everybody talks, everybody visits."

In the summer, the Farbers are at the Long Drive-In just about every Sunday night.

"It's the only dates we've ever been on, if you don't count going to Burger King," she said.

Drive-ins were commonplace when the Farbers were growing up, and when Dave Hilsgen started working as a projectionist around the Twin Cities metro in 1968.

"There were approximately about 90 here in the state of Minnesota, roughly. You know, 80 to 90, in that range," he said.

Hilsgen said there are now only six in the state, so you'll understand why he takes such pride in working at the Long Drive-In. Cliff and Laurel Meier fought the keep the Long Drive-In open through the 1980s and '90s before passing along the business to their daughter and son-in-law, Michelle and Dan Claseman.

But facing an unavoidable upgrade to a digital projector last year, the Clasemans turned to the community that had supported them for decades.

"They did not have the new projectors, and as of last year no more movies were going come out on reels. And if they didn't get the new projector, they were going have to shut down," Suzie said.

The community responded, raising around $6,000 towards the purchase of a new projector. Even after that, the Long Drive-In remains a bargain.

"We've been saying for three years, 'You need to raise the price of the drive-in,' and they finally did bring it from $5 to $6 this year," Suzie Farber said. "Big whoop, you know."

Admission gets you two movies, and the concessions are a steal too. A large popcorn is just $4, and they use real butter.

"I guess our goal with the whole scheme of things is that a family of four can come on out here for between $25 and $30," Dan Claseman said.

With prices like that, it makes sense when Claseman puts it into perspective.

"When you drive back in here, you're driving into 1956," he said.

The Long Drive-In is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through the summer, May through September.

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