West Side movie theater returns

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Three years the only Black-owned movie theater on the West Side closed its doors.

Three years ago the only Black-owned movie theater on the West Side closed its doors.

That will change this spring though when Chicago-based Inner City Entertainment reopens its ICE Theater in the Lawndale community at 3330 W. Roosevelt Road. Entrepreneurs Donzell and Alisa Starks, who are also married, founded ICE in 1997.

“Since the theater closed in 2007 we have been looking at refinancing as a means to reopen the theater,” Alisa Starks, president of ICE, told the Defender. “We are glad to be back in the community active again.”

Giving few details, Starks said the financing would come from the federally funded New Market Tax Credits, which provides funding for projects in economically depressed communities. She expects about 25 part-time jobs to be created from the reopening.

For now, ICE has no plans to reopen its other theater at 2258 W. 62nd St., which also closed in 2007. Its theater at 210 W. 87th St. is the only site currently open, in part, “because it was the bread and butter of the three,” said Starks, who declined to say how much the independently-owned theater does annually in sales.

She added that future goals for its 87th Street theater include attracting a sit down restaurant to be built next to the theater and more red carpet events.

ICE, which owns the stand-alone commercial building in Lawndale, is neighbors to two other Black-owned businesses. Covenant Bank, 1111 S. Homan Ave., is adjacent to the theater and a Black-owned McDonald’s sits not far away at 3200 W. Roosevelt Road.

And Lawndale residents said they welcome the theater back to the community.

“It is convenient. I am glad to see it is reopening,” said Tasha Grayer, 36. “I’d rather see it open than sit there vacant.”

Darren Gafford works as an assistant manager across the street at Walgreens, 3401 W. Roosevelt Road, and said the reopening will give kids something to do.

“Anything beats standing on the corner waiting for the police to pull up and arrest you. I have taken my daughter there a few times and we enjoyed it,” said the 26 year-old father. “Since it closed the closes movie theater is over on Cicero and Cermak and that’s too far.”

ICE has a niche market, according to Alisa, and that has contributed to its success.

“The majority of our customers are Black and Hispanic so we try to build from that customer base,” she said. “ICE is more than just a movie theater but a distributor. We have shown many independent Black films and are proud to do so.”

At one point Alisa said ICE had considered selling the theater but decided against it.

“We had considered selling the building but would have only done so if it was going to be developed into something the community needed,” explained Alisa. “I want to thank Alderman Sharon Dixon for her support too. She has been encouraging us to remain in the community.”

Alderman Sharon Dixon, whose 24th ward includes the ICE theater, was unavailable for comment.

Each Friday new movies are added to the roster and general admission for those 13 years-old and up is $9.50 compared to some movie theaters, such as Lowes, that charge $10 and up for general admission. All matinees (until 4 p.m.) at ICE are $7 and children 2 years old and under get in free. On Tuesdays movies are $6 all day for everyone as part of its “Twilight Tuesdays” promotion.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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