Alittle over one year after shuttering two of its three movie houses, Chicago-based Inner City Entertainment continues to thrive with its remaining South Side movie theater. In fact, its 14-screen ICE Theaters Chatham 14, 210 W. 87th St., is the only inde

Alittle over one year after shuttering two of its three movie houses, Chicago-based Inner City Entertainment continues to thrive with its remaining South Side movie theater.

In fact, its 14-screen ICE Theaters Chatham 14, 210 W. 87th St., is the only independently owned movie theater on the South Side. The only other South Side movie theater, near the Ford City shopping mall, 7601 S. Cicero, is owned by theater giant AMC Entertainment, Inc.

ICE is an11-year-old, Black-owned entertainment company started by husband and wife team, Donzell and Alisa Starks.

“Our South Side theater is our bread winner, and there are no plans to close that site,” said Alisa, president of ICE. “That site did over $4 million in sales last year, and second quarter sales suggest we will do slightly more this year.”

One reason for ICE’s success is the niche market it serves.

“About 80 percent of our customers are Black, and 20 percent are Hispanic,” Alisa told the Defender. “We are not a national chain like Sony, so we do not market to a national audience.

Our audience is the Black community in Chicago, predominately the South Side and that is who we cater our services to.”

David Jefferson, an entertainment analyst with J.P. Morgan Chase, said small, independent movie owners like the Starks should enjoy their success while it lasts.

“ICE has one movie theater to bring home the bacon, and that is not good when you have bootleg DVDs being sold right outside the theater’s parking lot for $10,” he said.

The soft economy has also forced a lot of families to either minimize or eliminate entertainment expenses like going to the movies, especially when they can buy a bootleg movie, rent a DVD or watch movies for free on the Internet.

“Going to the movies is a big waste of time because you have to deal with teenagers talking on their cell phones, babies crying or fights breaking out afterwards,” said Roshanda Walker, 50. “Why go through all that when I can buy a bootleg copy and watch it at home with less interruptions?”

Alisa said she is not worried about rising ticket prices, DVD rentals or bootleg movies chasing potential customers away.

“Our prices are comparable to other nearby theaters such as Ford City and River Oaks (in south suburban Calumet City),” she said. “We have been able to remain an independent (movie) theater owner because we create a family atmosphere at our theater. You don’t have to worry about getting shot or robbed at Chatham.”

“We have a younger audience base than other theaters, and that’s because we are located in the community,” she said. “Besides, we have stadium seating at our theater, and Ford City and other theaters do not, so that is another reason why younger folks prefer our theater.”

Patrons said they come to the Chatham theater because it is convenient to get to, is clean and presents a good family atmosphere.

“I take my family there at least once a month to catch the latest flick,” said Debra Higgins, 38. “It’s easy to get to on public transportation, and since I do not have a car, that’s important to me.”

The movie complex is two blocks from the 87th Street stop on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line. It is also located within a large strip mall with restaurants, retail stores and plenty of parking.

Last May, ICE closed its theaters at 3330 W. Roosevelt Road and 2258 W. 62nd St., due to low sales. Alisa said that both sites would be sold, but only if the buyer agreed to develop the site into something needed in the community.

The Roosevelt Road theater is currently under contract with a developer while the Western Avenue one remains for sale.

“We are not looking to make a quick buck and sell the sites to the highest bidder. We care deeply about the community and want to make sure the land is used for something needed in the community,” Alisa said. “While expansion is great for business, we are not looking to open any other theaters at this time.”

Instead, Alisa said, they are looking at expanding the Chatham Theater to possibly include a sit-down restaurant.

General admission at the Chatham Theater is $9.75 for adults and $6.75 for seniors age 65 and over and children age 11 and under.

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