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Cherry Bowl Drive-In up for sale, could continue showing films

Northern Michigan’s only drive-in theater is looking for its next owner.

Laura Clark, the current owner of the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre is selling the property ahead of her retirement. Clark has managed the theater for more than 20 years.

Her realtors say many potential buyers want to keep it as a theater or arts space.

Located in the village of Honor, the theater is one of eight places in Michigan to watch the silver screen from your car. It opened in 1953 and has room for about 275 vehicles in front of one of the largest screens in northern Michigan.

Clark asked for her realtors to speak to IPR on her behalf. Hayden Bretzki of the Jon Zickert Group under Real Estate One said her decision to sell did not come lightly.

“Bittersweet is exactly the word I would use,” he said. “That's something that [Clark] voiced to us. She poured her heart and soul into this place and loves it so much. So, she really wants to see it go to somebody who's going to take care of it.”

“We've talked with numerous, numerous buyers about this property, and the overwhelming majority are looking to keep it a drive-in.”
Jon Zickert
Real Estate One

The property is listed for about $600,000 and includes the projector, concessions equipment and other gear to run the theater.

In 2013, the Cherry Bowl won a Christie digital projector — worth more than $70,000 — as part of the Honda Motor's Project Drive-In advertising campaign.

As of 2022, there are about 300 operational drive-ins left in the U.S.

“We've talked with numerous, numerous buyers about this property, and the overwhelming majority are looking to keep it a drive-in,” Jon Zickert of Real Estate One said. “That seems to be what folks are looking to do. And that is, certainly, what our seller hopes as well.”

The theater holds a special place in history for the greater Benzie County area, according to Benzie Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Barefoot.

Beyond the drive-in, the Cherry Bowl offers a complete retro experience with old-timey commercials, popcorn seasoned with unprocessed butter, and other activities like mini golf.

Barefoot said she would welcome an owner that could expand the business model to hold gatherings year-round while also retaining the mid-century aesthetics.

“I, personally, would love to see more performing artists, specifically musicians from our region. Could that be a space where it's not only music, but maybe poetry, games or stuff like that?” Barefoot said. “Maybe it's kids putting on plays, or farmers markets - a way that the community can utilize that space beyond just being a drive-in.”

Clark will continue running the Cherry Bowl during its normal weekend hours, Memorial Day through Labor Day, or until the sale is complete.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.