3Below Theaters welcomes back movie audiences to downtown San Jose


Just in time for Oscars season, 3Below Theaters in downtown San Jose began welcoming back movie fans on Friday with a three-week festival showcasing Academy Award nominees. And owners Shannon and Scott Guggenheim have pulled out the stops in trying to give audiences an experience they won’t get streaming movies on the couch.

The lobby has been given a fun makeover, with seating options spanning the decades from the 1950s through the ’80s, with diner booths in one area, lava lamps elsewhere and two custom-made tables created with cassette tape covers and Rubik’s Cubes on either side of a Ms. Pac-Man machine. The expanded cafe menu — with gourmet hot dogs and Belgian waffle bites alongside the popcorn — can be enjoyed inside or outdoors, even if you’re not going to a movie (and an outdoor stage is in the works).

“I hope that people will enjoy the changes that we’ve made and find this place to be more of a third space,” beyond home and work, Scott Guggenheim said. “We’re trying to find a way to engage the community. If you’re looking for a positive thing to come out of the pandemic, we were given the gift of time — not the gift of money — to make the changes we wanted to.”

Barbara Doheny treats herself to a bucket of pop corn and a movie at 3Below Theaters in downtown San Jose, Friday, April 2, 2021. She was the theater’s first customer since the pandemic shutdown. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 
Barbara Doheny treats herself to a bucket of pop corn and a movie at 3Below Theaters in downtown San Jose, Friday, April 2, 2021. Doheny said she got her vaccine shot earlier in the day and needed a treat, becoming the theater’s first customer since the pandemic shutdown. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 
The newly-decorated lobby at 3Below Theaters in downtown San Jose is prepared to welcome back customers, Friday, April 2, 2021, for the first time since the pandemic shutdown. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 
Vintage booths have been added to the at 3Below Theaters lobby in downtown San JoseFriday, April 2, 2021, opening for the first time since the pandemic shutdown. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 
A purple piano and a wall of lava lamps grace the 3Below Theaters lobby in downtown San Jose, Friday, April 2, 2021. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

There are a lot of changes inside the auditoriums, too, with movie and pop culture memorabilia lining the walls, rolled movie posters creating a colorful effect on one wall, and “seating bubbles” of two and four seats necessitated by COVID-19 social distance guidelines. (Yes, masks are required unless eating and auditoriums are cleaned in between screenings).

The seating arrangement is something 3Below figured out last summer when it launched “Up on the Roof,” a summer/fall series of movies screened atop the city parking garage above the theater that proved popular with a community tired of being cooped up at home. Guggenheim said 3Below would be interested in bringing back the rooftop movies this year, but there would have to be more outside sponsors involved as security costs for the seating and equipment alone outstripped admission revenue.

The Oscars festival — with features, documentaries and shorts that have rarely been seen in theaters this year — runs through April 25, when it will be capped with an onsite Oscars party open to anyone who buys a ticket during the fest. Plans for movies beyond that haven’t been made yet, but Guggenheim says to stay tuned.

That also goes for live theater productions, which 3Below is hoping to have running again this fall. All last season’s shows were canceled because of the pandemic, and getting the schedule on track will entirely depend on keeping COVID-19 cases low and vaccinations high. For ticket and schedule information, go to www.3belowtheaters.com.

APPLE’S MAKE-GOOD GESTURE: Apple announced this week that this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference would again be an all-online event in June, but the Cupertino-based tech giant did make an effort to make up for the economic fallout not having an in-person conference means for San Jose, where it had been held the past few years.

Apple pledged a $1 million donation to SJ Aspires, an initiative being launched April 15 by Mayor Sam Liccardo with the San Jose Public Library Foundation to help youth in underserved neighborhoods and disadvantaged students of color chart a path toward college.

“Apple’s relentless focus on the future shows in the company’s products, its vision, and its generosity,” Liccardo said in a statement. “The company’s support of San Jose Aspires will enable our brightest young minds to overcome the barriers of poverty, and it will create hundreds of role models of college-going success for other children of color in our community.”

Of course, downtown restaurants and merchants would be grateful to have Apple developers swarming downtown this summer instead of dealing with coronavirus restrictions. One hopes Apple’s pledge also includes a plan to be back in San Jose in summer 2022.

CATERING TO THE NEEDY: Silicon Valley caterer Catered Too is giving its customers the chance to help others through its Feed the Need program, in which it’ll match every order made to provide meals to the Ecumenical Hunger Program of East Palo Alto.

Catered Too CEO Eric Barnachea, a longtime employee who purchased the company from founder Greg Casella in 2019, said the program was an enormous opportunity to serve a large number of people in need. “Since we cater many large groups, we thought this was a perfect way for us to partner with our customers and help the community at the same time,” he said.

The catering company’s minimum order is 20 people, but for every order placed above that amount, Catered Too will provide a donated meal to EHP, which has been offering food programs and other services to people in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and nearby communities since 1975. Check out Catered Too’s offerings at www.cateredtoo.com.

RESTORATION ON THE WAY: Last week, I wrote about a grassroots effort to restore the historic Ming Quong Home arch at Uplift Family Services’ location in Los Gatos. Gerrye Wong, the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project co-founder who was helping to spearhead the campaign, emailed me to say that her fundraising efforts have brought in more than $15,000 to rehabilitate the remnant of a 1930s-era orphanage for Chinese girls. And Uplift Family Services also has been receiving donations as well.

That’ll be enough to restore the arch, Wong said, and start on Phase II of the proposal, which is to create a replica of the Ming Quong Home sign that hung from the arch, install a bench nearby and place a plaque to explain the history of the site.

AUTHORS ONLINE: The Santa Clara County Library District will kick off its four-part virtual Distinguished Authors Series on April 14 with Stanford University Professor Robert Sapolsky, author of “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst,” who lectures on the biology of stress and related diseases. In later parts of the series, computer scientist and composer Jaron Lanier will explore the impact of technology on our lives (April 28), novelist Joyce Carol Oates will talk about her new book, “The (Other) You” (May 8), and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri will speak on the perplexities of the immigrant experience (May 22).

Each moderated conversation will include an audience question-and-answer session at the end, and they are free to attend. Get more information and register online at sccld.org/authorseries.


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