By RAY QUIROGA
Courtney Hayden loves rainy days.
“I sometimes bump into people at the post office (on rainy days) and apologize for doing my rain dance the night before,” she jested.
While her appreciation for inclement weather may be peculiar for an area known for its sunny beaches and otherwise subtropical climate, her stance becomes more understandable with the knowledge that she’s the longtime owner of South Padre’s own Island Cinema.
Since 1996, Hayden has owned and operated Island Cinema at its current locale, 4700 Padre Blvd., on South Padre Island and at one time her and her then husband, Tim, also owned what was known as Island Cinema at the Mall, which they purchased from a previous owner in 1997 under another name inside the then-named Sunchase Mall up until 2001, when that theater permanently closed its doors.
But alas, after some 25 years of memories coupled with the ups and downs which many businesses experience in this tourist-based economy, Hayden is calling it a wrap on Sunday, Sept 5. That’s when Island Cinema will close its doors until new owners decide to reopen, likely later this fall.
Hayden and her husband Tim, who is now deceased, retired to the Island from the Dallas-Fort Worth area back in the late 90s, but they were no strangers to the Rio Grande Valley. Tim, being raised in Harlingen, often visited the area with Courtney who was originally from the Houston area and had previously no first-hand knowledge of the Valley until her visits here dating back to the 1960s. Courtney, a retired school teacher, said that she and Tim decided early on to retire on the Island. When they relocated to the Island, to avoid draining their retirement fund, the couple sought an alternate revenue stream, a business they could invest in and run.
“We discussed it with our Realtor; and, at the time, he said, ‘You have three choices, do you want a bar, a restaurant or a t-shirt shop?” she jested.
Some six months later, that Realtor called the Haydens with an offer for Island Cinema, which was only about two years old at the time. Tim felt owning a movie theater was the right business for them. Courtney, one the other hand, wasn’t so sure, partly because they had no movie theater operating experience and partly because, at the time, there was seemingly a video rental store on every corner and she feared they would take away revenue from movie theaters.
“Shows you what I know,” Hayden said, looking back, and now knowing the fate of video stores such as Blockbuster Video.
During her years as owner, Hayden has witnessed the evolution of the industry such as the actual movies being physically delivered in canisters (a number of film reels adorn a wall in the concession area) to the movies being uploaded to a drive which is then activated by a passcode.
Patrons who have visited the theater in more recent years have also noticed that Hayden has invested in the movie-going experience with better screens and seating.
In all, the 28-year-old theater is just over 9,000 square feet, and the theaters themselves each have a 90-person capacity.
Hayden, who’s a fixture in the community, having served on the SPI City Council and on the SPI Chamber Board of Directors, among other groups, believes the time is right to leave the area so she can be closer to family.
She said the new owners will likely make the theater into more of a total entertainment experience, as is the trend nationally, in order to make the theater more financially viable.
In all, Hayden said she will miss the community, especially how tight-knit it is, as well as her employees, in particularly Hector Caballero, who has been with the cinema for 21 years.
And while the theater played host to a number of corporate events, functions, reunions and engagements, the former educator will particularly cherish the memories of the droves of school children which streamed through the theater during field trips and the time a young man rented a theater, invited his family and fiancée and played a clip on the screen of him asking his fiancée to marry him. She said, “Yes.”