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Magic Show : Fans Flock to Laker Legend's Movie Complex


He may not be playing basketball anymore, but Earvin (Magic) Johnson is still scoring a few points with his $11-million movie complex in the Crenshaw district.

Four months after Johnson opened his Magic Theatres at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the 12-screen state-of-the-art movie complex is selling enough tickets to push it into the top ranks of theaters across the country.

Mark Pascucci, spokesman for Sony Theatres, Johnson's partner in the Magic Theatres business venture, said the movie complex has consistently ranked as one of the 150-theater chain's top 10 earners.

Out of 2,100 screens sampled nationwide, the Magic Theatres complex was second in revenue Oct. 10 and third Oct. 17, according to Entertainment Data Inc.

A spokesman for the company said part of the reason the Magic Theatres complex was a top earners those two weekends was that two movies that premiered then, "Dead Presidents" and "Devil in a Blue Dress," have strong appeal to African Americans.

The success of the first state-of-the-art theater built in a Los Angeles minority community comes as no surprise to John Bryant, spokesman for Operation Hope, a nonprofit group that works with banks to give home loans to Crenshaw district residents. Blacks account for 25% of movie ticket sales nationwide, Bryant said.

On weekend nights, moviegoers crowd the ticket lines, theater lobby, parking lots and mall walkways, avoiding the lengthy trek they used to make to theaters in Century City, Marina del Rey or Westwood.

They are also giving a needed shot in the arm to the adjacent mall.

Merchants are reporting anywhere from 5% to 50% increases in sales since the theater's grand opening in June, mall manager Derrell Spann said. The theater's success, along with the waning recession, has helped draw five new stores: Amichi's men's clothing, T.J. Cinnamons'baked goods, Sun's Gift Shop, Mood's housewares and Joseph's restaurant, he added.

Amir Fazal, whose Perfume Gallery opened a week before the Magic Theatres, said some of his shoppers are also theater-goers who drift in to look at his merchandise and end up buying one or two items.

"It's spontaneous buying," said Lisa Stewart, manager of the Wherehouse record store, which has seen business increase 25% since the theater opened.

At Sears, one of three mall anchor stores along with the Broadway and Robinsons-May, officials are reporting a 34% increase in sales.

The increase in business couldn't have come too soon for a mall that has struggled for years. Even during the busy Christmas shopping season, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza has been only moderately active.

"The area has really come back alive," said Fred Bruning, senior vice president of Alexander Haagen, the company that leases space at the mall. This Christmas, he said, the mall will be 95% full, one of the highest occupancy rates among Southern California malls.

Beyond success that can be measured on a balance sheet, the theater has become a magnet for African Americans from throughout the Southland, some driving from as far as San Bernardino and Orange counties.

"The theater has become the focal point of the community," said Spann.

Baldwin Hills resident Jamie Cole said that since the theater opened, she has done most of her shopping at the mall.

For years, Cole said, she and her friends had shopped outside the Crenshaw district. But now Magic Johnson's investment in the largely African American community has encouraged her and her friends to begin shopping at local stores owned by blacks.

"There are a lot of people shopping here that didn't use to," Cole said.

Terrence Humphries of Carson said that because he's a Magic Johnson fan, he's driven 20 miles out of his way to catch a few movies at the theater. He was there on a recent evening with girlfriend Shannen Massey of Long Beach.

"It's the place to be," he said.

Jane Parkinson, an Inglewood resident who went to the theater about two weeks after it opened, has returned eight more times to shop at the mall. "It's a good place to shop," she said.

Bill Price, a city official with the Crenshaw Redevelopment Project Area, said the theater is also attracting more white customers to the mall.

"For the first time, we're seeing white customers from outside the area come to the theater and plaza," he said.

Johnson said the success of the theater has encouraged him to consider expanding his theater chain to other minority neighborhoods throughout the country. He wants not only to provide first-class movie entertainment in African American, Latino and Asian American communities, but to "stimulate and foster economic growth within the areas we will serve."

Kenneth Lombard, president of Johnson Development Corp., the basketball legend's business entity, said Dallas, Chicago, Detroit and possibly another location in Los Angeles are being considered for new theater locations.

"There are communities in dire need for these facilities," he said.

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