A Movie Theater for My Neighborhood

The Old Sharpstown Mall, now known as PlazAmericas, seems to be making a comeback. No, it’s not your usual shopping mall with the snootiness of Needless Mark-up and other high-end stores, but it definitely fills up on weekends. Various festivities bring out a lot of people, and a Latin music nightclub brings out even more with live bands. That said, something was missing in the area–a movie theatre. The Chron has a good article on the upcoming reopening of the movie theater space at PlazAmericas. Actually, I found out that Viva Cinema was opening before the article was posted as I drove by and saw the signage on the building.

“We hope to be the impetus to revitalize PlazAmericas,” Altman said. “La gente, our people, are important to us. We will be part of the fabric of this community.”

The new eight-screen theater, with auditoriums that have between 150 and 450 seats, will show a mix of first-run movies in English with Spanish subtitles, as well as popular films from Mexico, Spain, Brazil and Argentina in Spanish with English subtitles.

Neon lights glow above a concession stand stocked with Latin-themed menu items – aguas frescas, horchata, margaritas and pastries from local Mexican bakeries – in addition to traditional American-style movie snacks.

Connected to the theater will be the 4,500-square-foot Viva Sports Cantina that will have a full bar and serve hamburgers, pizza, fajitas, tacos and other bar food. Special trays that lock into the theater chair arms will be provided so patrons can take their food and drinks from the cantina into the cinema.

An adjacent 4,500-square-foot party area can be rented for children’s or teenagers’ parties. It includes a piñata arena and is modeled after a successful party space in Mexico.

The soon-to-be-formerly-shuttered theater was closed down in 2008 after some heavy damage from Hurricane Ike. So, as PlazAmericas has been going through some revitalization and added activity, it remained closed. The mall is now about 80% occupied, and that’s without any major anchor stores (or snooty stores). But the mall has become quite attractive to mom-n-pop businesseses.

Two mercados, primarily featuring local vendors selling everything from sports jerseys to flowers to food, have taken over the shells left vacant by Oshman’s Sporting Goods and J.C. Penney.

Some of the merchants have been so successful that they have been able to relocate their stores to permanent storefronts in the mall. That includes Maria Garcia, who moved Maria’s Gifts, which sells an assortment of home goods and decorative items.

Norma Palacios, a designer of bridal and quinceañera dresses, first opened Palacios Bridal in the mercado, and now occupies a 2,000-square-foot space in the main part of the mall. Several stores sell the embellished, colorful dresses for the traditional 15th birthday celebrations.

“The success of these operators is wonderful to see, not only because of the personal, American-dream element, but also because these entrepreneurs are so critical to the success of the area,” Segal said.

I’m glad this investment in the area is occurring, given that I live down the block from PlazAmericas. And the best news?

Seago said 45 of the 65 employees hired so far are students from Lee, Sharpstown and Sharps­town International high schools.

The owners also plan to have a free family movie each Tuesday night and hope to add an additional free movie on Sundays.

“If we wrap our arms around the community, they will wrap their arms around us,” Seago predicted.

Altman and Seago plan to debut an independent film by a Houston producer, who was born in El Salvador, at the grand opening.

The movie, about an undocumented immigrant, is titled “The Dreamer.”

That would be my friend, Jesse Salmeron’s The Dreamer.

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