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updated 09/18/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/18/2000 01:00AM

For 40 summers Sebert Hull greeted customers entering his theater with a heartfelt "I hope you enjoy the show!" But he always knew that what was playing at Hull's Drive-In in Lexington, Va., was secondary to securing the perfect spot to spread the blanket under the stars and savoring his freshly buttered popcorn. "Movies are cool," says schoolteacher Elise Sheffield, 39, "but that was never the point. The drive-in is a simple pleasure."

That simple pleasure seemed lost forever when Hull died in 1998 and the theater went dark. But Elise and Eric Sheffield, former Peace Corps volunteers in Africa–and parents to Silvia, 7, and Laurel, 4–would not let the drive-in die. In May 1999 Elise and Eric, 39, a carpenter, began organizing Hull's Angels, a nonprofit organization to support the drive-in. And this summer, after a year's hiatus, the drive-in re-opened, thanks to the $25,000 the group's 600 members raised through donations, sales and raffles. And since last July 7, some 300 cars have showed up each weekend, packed with families, love-struck teens and retired couples eager to resume a nearly extinct American ritual. "It's a great feeling," says Hull's Angel Carl Wimer, 54, who recalls the youthful thrill "of being outdoors at night and sneaking in beers in the trunk."

The Angels are confident they will reach their $75,000 goal, but meanwhile there are tickets to take (prices remain family-friendly: adults, $4, kids free). And in tribute to Sebert Hull, customers are welcomed with the words, "I hope you enjoy the show!"

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