Midway Drive-in perseveres as family business despite loss of patriarch

Local News

When a storm destroyed the Midway Drive-in’s screen a few years ago, neighbors rallied around owner John Nagelschmidt V and his family.

A new screen was ordered, installed, and the show went on.

It seemed the family business had cleared it’s biggest possible hurdle…until Nagelschmidt began preparing for the 2017 season.

“He was here working by himself, with a backhoe tractor that was new to him,” his son explains. “He ran himself over accidentally. He was off the seat in front of the tire and it went over him.”

“Then, everything stopped and we weren’t sure what to do,” adds Heidi Nagelschmidt, John’s daughter.

While the screen may be a Drive-in’s centerpiece, John Nagelschmidt V was the soul of the operation in Minetto, NY.

He began working there as a snack bar attendant in high school, learning the ropes in various roles until he was offered a deal to buy the business in the late 80’s.

“My sister and I do not have memories of life without the drive-in. We used to play snack bar up at the ticket booth,” says John Nagelschmidt VI. “So, it’s just as much in our blood as it was in his.”

The younger John started running the projector a few years ago, never imagining he’d be responsible for so much more, so soon.

He admits it’s been a struggle filling the shoes of a man who took care of everything, so others could sit back and enjoy the show.

“It’s been a little difficult because he didn’t share much of that with us. He was an individualist and he liked to do things on his own,” Nagelschmidt VI explains. “Book movies, order supplies, advertising, payroll staff, all that stuff.”

Determined to keep the business in the family, the siblings decided to delay the drive-in’s opening while they figured out how to function with the grief of their father’s death.

“Knowing that the community wanted us to open, and we wanted to open, we knew that’s what dad would want,” Heidi explains. “We wanted to do it quickly, but we wanted to do it right.”

Her children, the next generation of Nagelschmidt’s at the drive-in, already have plans to spend their summer working in Minetto.

Heidi would like to install a credit card machine someday. Her father only accepted cash. Some change is inevitable.

“He was able to suspend time here. He retained as much of the original charm as he could and that’s what we’re going to continue to try to do,” said Nagelschmidt VI.

The gates will open at 7pm on Thursday for a special show in honor of their dad. A free viewing of a documentary about the Midway Drive-in will start at sunset.

Then, the season officially begins on Friday with a double-feature for fans; Transformers: The Last Night followed by Baywatch.

Triple-features will likely come back too, once they wrap their minds around the booking process.

The siblings are confident they’ll be able to clear the Midway’s latest hurdle, on their own.

“I know that the Midway will never be the same without his presence on the lot,” his daughter says. “But he will always be here in spirit, I know he will, guiding us and greeting everybody that comes in.”

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