TABOR CITY - As thunderstorms rolled in Friday night, Sherry Barnes stood outside the small shack that houses the projector for her new drive-in movie theatre, nestled within the farmland between Tabor City and Longs.
Despite the rain, several cars had shown up to see "A Dog's Way Home."
As the rain got heavier and the sky lit up with lighting, Barnes wasn't worried about getting pelted by drops while she made popcorn. "I'm fine," she laughed. She had been through worse.
Seven years ago, Barnes was in a car accident. Her passenger was killed. Barnes survived, but had to endure seven years of physical therapy.
“I’m still doing stem cell therapy, which comes from babies,” she said. “I did my speech therapy, a lot of it reading, praying and singing with the children. They didn’t care if my speech was impaired.”
Even though she was told she’d never walk again, she rose above the odds.
“I said ‘Dear Lord, what do I do for these kids?’” Barnes recalled. “Some of them never get to get out of these four walls and then when they do, they’ve got three or four siblings.”
Barnes said she prayed for an idea, “and then one day, boom!”
That idea was a drive-in movie theatre in the Bug Hill area of North Carolina between Tabor City and Loris. Barnes already had the land, and brought water and sewer service to the area years ago when she was a developer working for Burroughs and Chapin. At the time, she was considering putting in a housing development.
She designed the 40’ by 50’ screen herself, and has plans to add two more to the State Line Movie Time theatre.
For the kids, there’s a checker board the size of a blanket, Astroturf with beanie babies, and “pennies from heaven” near the fire pit, where kids can look for coins Barnes tosses around.
“When you find ‘em, you gotta pray for your family,” she said. “And now families are throwing out change to keep ‘em out here longer so they can have date night.”
Barnes plans to add a playground as well, which she'll call “Fun Hill.”
But folks can watch the movie without ever leaving their cars, because the sound is pumped through the car radio on the right frequency. There are also outdoor speakers.
“Where do you take a child that has a low immune deficiency and that’s challenged?” Barnes said. “You can’t go to an amusement park, you can’t go to a walk-in theatre when your feet stick to the floor and you don’t know if there’s bedbugs in the chairs. But you can come out here and enjoy a family environment and the whole family has a memory.”
The very back row of the theatre is reserved for big trucks high enough off the ground that they can see over other cars.
The next two rows are lovers’ lane.
“We don’t want to see the windows fog up and arms and legs out the windows,” Barnes laughed. “All the rest is families, so we’ve got to protect the kids.”
Tickets are $10 for a double feature of new release movies, with discounts for kids 12 and under, veterans and seniors. The first movie generally starts at 8:15 p.m. Fireworks are included during intermission, although Barnes shot them off early on Friday as rain moved in.
There’s a small charge to bring your own cooler ($10) or grill ($15), and Pepsi drinks are $2 for a 20-ounce bottle.
But Barnes gives away popcorn for a donation. If you can’t afford a donation, she said, the popcorn is free.
Proceeds from the popcorn donations go to Harvest Table, a North Carolina food bank in Whiteville. Barnes also lets schools and other organizations host fundraisers at the theatre.
“We do all kinds of charity,” Barnes said. “It’s a pay-it-forward kind of thing.”
The theatre is open for a double feature Thursday through Sunday. The address is 3835 Dothan Road, Tabor City, North Carolina.
For more information, visit www.statelinemovietime.com.