Barely a day has gone by in the past 25 years that I haven’t driven by this sign. From 1957-1990 it let families, young lovers, teens giving their new drivers licenses a workout and anyone with a set of wheels entertainment under the southeastern Michigan sky or maybe something a little extra in the backseat.
We moved to the Detroit area in the spring of 1989 but didn’t discover the Commerce Drive-in sign until it was too late. Like so many drive-in movies around the nation, it lost out to mulitplexes, home video options and home computers. The internet hadn’t yet become a factor.
Over the years the Commerce Drive-in sign stood sentry over an intersection that morphed from a quiet suburban corner to almost gridlock today as urban sprawl lured families northwest of Detroit to Commerce Township. We had always hoped the fact that the sign continued to hang in there while discount stores and subdivisions and brewpubs and carwashes were built around it that someone would re-open the drive-in. Of course, that made no business sense, although the Ford-Wyoming Drive-in in Dearborn continues to thrive.
The Commerce Drive-in sign grew forlorn but defiant as time moved along, fighting a losing battle against the elements and neglect. Motorists making a left or right at the T-intersection of Union Lake and Richardson Roads would give it a reverent glance as they went on their ways, many, I guess, wondering why it would still remain long after the last picture show. Still, not a word was heard asking to have it torn down. It’s just a constant you expect to be there, even though it serves no purpose other than, perhaps, reminding those who were there, of good and simple times, when one could enjoy a double-feature with friends and family on a giant screen with bags of hot buttered popcorn and ice cream and Milk Duds under the stars not in the solitude of a hand-held smartphone.
Last New Year’s Day the sign fell victim to vandals who sprayed graffiti on the landmark. That’s not something the community would stand for. A local resident and real estate agent, appalled by the insult to our beloved sign got to work lining up help with powerwashing and cleaning the sign.
A GoFundMe campaign was started but community businesses were so generous in donating their services to renovate the sign, there was no need to raise the initial goal of $50,000. The long-vacant lot where the actual drive-in stood may also be turned into a park aimed at activities for children with special needs.
It would cost about a quarter-million dollars to get the Commerce Drive-in sign fully functional again…a little too rich right now for cleanup organizers But even if its neon never glows again, the effort to rehabilitate the sign sheds a bright light on a community coming together to take care of a beloved roadside companion.