By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Movie goers in the south suburbs have been shocked when they learned a popular movie theater in Country Club Hills is no more. The AMC Loews Theater located on 167th just east of Interstate 57 closed on Jan. 10. The closing comes after the owners of the building significantly raised their rental fees, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
The 16-screen theater housed an IMAX screen, which when it first opened in 2002 was one of the only ones in the area with that technology. Many African American community groups held outings at the theater. Its location, the only movie theater in the area, was a big draw for African Americans who live in Harvey, Markham and Country Club Hills.
“AMC was unable to reach an agreement with the landlord and the theater’s final day of operations was Sunday, Jan. 10,” said Ryan Noonan, director of corporate communications for AMC in an email. “We thank our guests at AMC Country Club Hills and invite them to continue enjoying their AMC experience a few miles away at AMC Loews Crestwood 18.”
Octavia Wright showed up at the theater this week with two of her kids. To her surprise she was greeted with a sign on the door saying the building was closed but directing her to the Crestwood site.
“I’m shocked. I didn’t hear about this on the news or from talking to people,” she said. “I was looking forward to watching a movie with my kids today so we will just have to drive somewhere else. But I feel sorry for people who don’t have a car because this place was within walking distance for many people.”
Crusader sent an email to Country Club Hills Mayor James W. Ford, who was elected to office last year after former Mayor Dwight Welch was forced out, seeking comment. He responded the following day but refused to discuss the issue and was upset Crusader was doing a story on the situation at all.
“I don’t see why you need to do this,” Ford said. “You are going to make it hard for us to get a contract with the next person coming in.”
Crusader informed Mayor Ford the purpose of the article was to inform the public about the situation and to get answers to residents’ questions, not serve as a public relations outlet for Country Club Hills. He responded by saying, “have a good day,” and hung up the phone.
“I feel sorry for the kids who worked there and now have nowhere to go,” said Phillip Anderson, who has lived in the area for nine years. “I think about them when I see that place closed. We have a tough enough time finding them jobs and here we had a place where they could work as cashiers, ushers or the concession stand. Now it’s gone. What do they do now?”
The theater was part of what was originally the Magic Johnson brand theater chain. Johnson however is no longer involved with the AMC Lowes group. In the meantime, movie goers are expected to go to Crestwood or Marcus Cinemas in Orland Park and Chicago Heights.