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Photo credit George Williams

Parkchester residents gathered at the Metropolitan Oval to protest against the replacement of their neighborhood movie theater by a T.J. Maxx. Activists were led by leaders of the National Action Network Bronx chapter in their protest against the construction that was already underway at the location.

American Bow Tie Theater’s Parkchester location had been a fixture in the community for over 74 years before it was shut down in late 2013.  When T.J. Maxx acquired the building lease early this year and decided to announce their plans to transform the former movie theater into one of their chain stores the National Action Network became involved. The frustration came from T.J. Maxx not consulting the community about the construction and simply going ahead with it.

Philanthropist Royce Charles came upon the issue while reading an article about it in the New York Times. After telephoning him on Sunday,  Reverend Dr. Kahli Mootoo, President of the National Action Network’s (NAN) Bronx chapter, the two arranged a meeting that day and Royce Charles saw the former movie theater being replaced with a T.J. Maxx. He decided to pledge however much money was needed to the cause of preserving the movie theater.

There was only one problem: T.J. Maxx had not responded to the letter sent asking them to dissolve the lease on the property allowing it to be bought by Royce Charles. Due to this inaction residents took action and created an online petition in an effort to garner neighborhood support for the issue. By the writing of this article the petition has gained 995 e-signatures.

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Photo credit George Williams

On 6 June, 2014  residents staged a protest at the location.

In the initial hours of the protest only a few were gathered and workers on the building looked around with grins and chuckled as they watched the few women gathered yell about preserving their neighborhood’s last theater. Their amusement soon turned to furtive glances and some open stares with bemused expressions as it went on. Not soon after this Public Safety Officers showed up in their cars and questioned one of the protestors from their vehicles.

Around 12:10 p.m. more people had shown up and the chants that had been sung by few now were carried by the many. One man chanted on his own with variations of,  “Save our movies!” It wasn’t soon after that when the public safety officers exited their cars and gathered on the opposite side of the street, ordering the protestors to stay on the side they had originally gathered on and not to linger.

People who had gathered into the crowd from the surrounding area were hopeful about the rally.

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“I hope it’s going to help. I heard T.J. Maxx was coming and I said OK but if I had an option I’d take the theater,” said Eulalee Small, resident of Parkchester.

She lamented on how this was the last movie theater in the neighborhood to close with the Circle and Palace movie theaters closing some time before. Those locations had been replaced by a gym and furniture store.

Iris Cruz, longtime resident of Parkchester, also was saddened by the loss of what was the last movie theater in the neighborhood.

“There is no other outlet for movies in the neighborhood.” Due to the proximity people were willing to walk in different weather conditions to see a movie. “In the snow, the heat, we all walked [to the movie theater].”

Both rarely go to the movies due to the nearest Bronx movie theater being in Co-Op City.

The rally ended at the height of its roar, due to the activists lacking a permit and being forced to depart by the Public Safety Officers,  as activists gathered around Mootoo and Vice President of NAN DaShawn Williams as they said some parting words.

“The community should be at the table not just at the end to spend dollars…Teach your children about their spending,” Williams said.

“We comin’ back,” she warned T.J. Maxx, to the applause of the audience.

 

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