Downtown Yoakum's Game Changer
The Grand Theater entertained generations of Yoakum residents with movies since the depression era. It abruptly closed in the late 1990's. About twenty years passed when Tammy Steinmann and her husband Phillip decided to purchase and rehabilitate the property. The project was conceived in 2015, construction began in early 2016 and by September 2016 the theater opened. Tammy, a school teacher, and Phillip, a rancher, had no intentions of the theater being profitable. Instead, their motivation stemmed from a deep-felt conviction that entertainment strengthens familial bonds by creating memories for the young and reviving them in the less young.
As a proof point, the theater offers free movies every Wednesday to everyone, not just kids. The public relations result has been great. Local sponsors are on a waiting list for next year. People are drawn to the friendly and genuine “old school” atmosphere of the single screen theater.
Regular showings occur Thursday through Sunday most of the year; family members help out at the concession stand and selling tickets. Additionally, the Grand employs four part timers.
The Yoakum EDC recognized the theater as a potential turning point for downtown Yoakum and invested $150,000 towards its success. The hope was the Grand would help spur redevelopment in Yoakum’s historically intact downtown.
A sales tax analysis showed that from the time the Grand opened in the fall of 2016 to the latest data (April 2018), the downtown restaurants’ sales increased 29%. Meanwhile, Yoakum's total restaurant sector increased less than 10%.
Visitors attend showings from many miles away. Residents of Shiner, Flatonia, Hallettsville, Cuero and even Victoria (the regional hub city 40 miles away with its own multi-screen theater). Since the Grand began operations in September 2016 six new stores opened in downtown Yoakum with over $1 million in investment. Those new stores employ nine full time and 7 part time employees.
People are feeling positive about downtown prospects. An on-line downtown vision survey, taken by 279 people in December 2017, revealed the strong sentiment of downtown pride and hope for the future.
A few months after the Grand opened, the future owners of the Yoakum General Store began planning. The partners are mid-thirties, life-long residents of Yoakum. The project involved two complete building rehabilitations (former feed store and train freight building). The Yoakum General Store opened in September 2017 and its lumber yard opened in June of 2018. The partners invested over $600,000 in the rehabilitation.
One of the unexpected benefits of the Grand Theater is its partnership with the Carl and Mary Welhausen Public Library. The two entities cross promote, coordinate summer programs, and help each be successful. This is exceptional because with the ownership’s desire to maintain a clean, uncluttered environment, the Grand Theater accepts no flyers or other advertisements from other businesses.
Because of the Grand’s success, a second screen is being planned in the adjoining building to allow for more variety. At the same time, that neighboring building will be subdivided and restaurant/ bar will fill the remaining space. The restaurant/ bar owner is a friend of the Steinmann’s who is quite excited about the location and its rich potential.
On Saturday, July 28, the Grand Birthday Bash street dance was attended by over 250 people, the first such downtown event in a decade. The event was conceived by the owner of the Perk & Brew, Yoakum’s newest downtown business.
Within the past year a downtown Historic Resources Survey has been completed and accepted by the state. The National Register District nomination is currently being written and January is scheduled for the state review. It is expected downtown will receive National Register District designation by April or May of 2019.
A seven minute video on the Grand can be viewed on YoakumEDC.com and the Yoakum EDC Facebook page.