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Lights come up again at Pearsall’s classic downtown cinema
Two years and three months after closing the doors to the only cinema in Frio County, Al Hirani is reopening for business this week.
The closure, advertised in place of film titles on the Oaks Theatre marquee, was prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a long-awaited piece of good news,” Hirani said Monday afternoon while staff worked on repairs to the vacant theater.
Still hanging on the wall at the theatre entrance this week was a poster of Vin Diesel in his 2020 action movie, “Bloodshot,” that was set to air the day government officials shut down businesses across the United States.
Hirani purchased the theatre in the winter of 2009 and by September 2009 opened the doors for a screening of “Kung Fu Panda.”
“I had a really long run before COVID,” he says. “I hope to do it again.”
“Super excited,” Pearsall resident Carolyn Hastings said of the cinema’s reopening. “It has always been a summer tradition with my grandkids and end of the school year event with our students.”
Hirani believes he faced big hurdles in managing his business during the closure. The pandemic prompted the government to order him to lock his doors, but locals then took advantage of his generosity, he says.
During the winter of 2021-22, Hirani encountered a homeless girl who was pregnant and offered her shelter from the cold in the shuttered theatre. He says he felt compelled to offer the girl some refuge, but now believes that she and her friends took advantage of the offer and burglarized the building.
“They stole all of my speakers,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “But you know what? God is amazing and my business neighbors and I were able to find my stuff.”
Hirani was able to recover half of his surround-sound theatre speakers.
Before the pandemic, Hirani was an avid supporter of education and donated movie tickets to area school districts. In true Al Hirani fashion, the cinema owner is opening his doors on Wednesday, June 29, to offer free movie screenings of “God is Not Dead” and another popular selection at 7 and 9 p.m.
On Thursday, June 30, the cinema will screen “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” the newest and fifth installment in the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise.
“I did have to go up on my prices some,” Hirani says, “I hope people understand.”
Admission is $9 for adults and $7 for children. Tickets for films shown in 3-D will be an additional dollar.
“So excited to have this business up and running again,” Autum Hurst said. “I may not be a big movie goer, but it’s great to have this be apart of our town.”
For Hirani and his vintage cinema, “The Rise of Gru” couldn’t come at a better time. He sees his business revival as ‘the rise of Al.’ Just as in any classic tearjerker film, Hirani and his cinema have a shot at a happy ending, due in large part to his determination to overcome the obstacles that landed in his path.