AP NEWS

Liberty Opry not shuttering after all

February 2, 2019

After coming to the brink of a sale of the Liberty Opry and shuttering the doors, a reprieve has given new life to the historic building and long-time followers of the Opry and Park Theater.

An announcement was made that the Opry will remain open for the time being, but the financial standing of the organization remains fragile unless there’s more support from the community.

Last summer, owners Jay and Nina Cantu made the difficult decision to put the property in the downtown square of the city of Liberty up for sale.

“Our attendance has been declining and we just couldn’t afford to keep the doors open,” Nina said.

Since 2010 when they purchased the Opry, they hosted at least four shows per month on Saturdays with a variety of musical offerings all accompanied by a talented backup band.

“When Hurricane Harvey hit, it really hurt us,” she said. The couple kept hoping that the attendance would pick up after folks got through the storm, but they never rebounded.

That forced them to host only three shows and sometimes only two per month as ticket sales lagged.

In recent years, the crowd has mostly been an older generation and the Cantu’s have had a difficult time attracting a younger demographic that might help them sustain the business.

“We always try to keep the price of the shows as low as we can because we understand the economic hardship it can put on an older crowd,” Nina said.

Faced with mounting maintenance bills, advertising, and operational expenses, they fell into a difficult time hanging on and meeting their budget.

“It was more than we could afford. We didn’t want to sell it. We just weren’t having enough come to pay the expenses,” she said.

One of the hardships dealt to the business was the replacement of five aging air conditioners which cost them thousands to replace.

Gilded with memories of glories past, they were unable to return the historic property back to its days of full houses—until late January.

A note about the Opry closing in the program at a sold-out Elvis show shocked many who hadn’t heard about the property being offered up for sale.

Nina said they would host a final concert with the Liberty Opry Band the last Saturday of January, take their losses and close the Opry.

However, the overwhelming reaction by many in the audience and the sale of the property falling through has given new life and hope that there may still be an appetite for the family-friendly entertainment.

“We had dropped down to three shows per month and most recently, we had to cancel more shows because we didn’t have enough tickets sold to pay everyone,” she said.

The sell of the property was to a Houston company who boasted plans to convert the old theater into a banquet-type facility.

“They were going to level the floor and convert it into a multi-purpose event center for private parties, weddings, and quinceaneras,” she said.

She wasn’t free to discuss the reason the deal fell through, but felt like this was another opportunity to save the Opry.

Now they will rebound starting with two shows per month and then add additional shows as attendance warrants.

“We do 50s, 60s, 70s classic oldies shows,” she said “that include do-wop and classic rock songs.”

They also do shows with a mix of old and new country music and fan favorites of gospel music.

Specialty shows feature big name entertainers who work with the house band at the Opry.

Since the announcement was made that they were closing at the end of January, Cantu said they have been flooded with calls and inquiries.

“We’re hopeful that it will turn into ticket sales and help us keep the Opry open for future generations,” she said.

The first show is scheduled for March 2 beginning at 4 p.m. and will be the popular all gospel show.

Before the grand reopening, they will take the band and show on the road to the Baytown Community Center for a show and dance from 5-8 p.m.

“We strive to keep our shows and the entire environment family-oriented for everyone to enjoy,” she said.

The Park Theater was built in 1938 and operated as a movie theater for many years.

The Liberty Opry was organized by the John Cox family in 1993. His brother is still in the band.

The theater was renovated to its current format in the early 2000s.

“Many of our customers share their childhood memories of attending movies at the Park Theater and cherish the fact that they can still come to the same theater for great entertainment,” Nina said.

In the meantime, Cantu is hoping the public will show their support at their first event in March.

“Bring your children and your grandparents for a fun evening of entertainment!” she said.

Have some ideas for shows? Contact the Cantu’s at 936-336-5830. The same number will also allow customers to make their reservations. Walk-ins are always welcome.

The Liberty Opry is located at 1816 Sam Houston St., Liberty, Texas.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly