Munraj Hothi is keeping Williams Lake's independent theatre and his family's business rolling as he enjoys a return to small town life. (Ruth Lloyd photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

OUR HOMETOWN: Independent theatre a family tradition in Williams Lake

Munraj Hothi returned to his hometown to be closer to family and to keep a family business local

A Williams Lake family business is staying local, thanks to a move home by Munraj Hothi.

Born and raised in Williams Lake, Hothi had moved down to the Surrey/White Rock area with his family when he was 16 years old, finishing high school in the Lower Mainland. He took some post-secondary studies in Kinesiology, but figured out it wasn’t for him. He later trained as a structural firefighter, and ended up working in business for the Cactus Club Cafe chain out of Edmonton.

Now, 20 years after leaving, he has returned to his original hometown, part of the pandemic-inspired exodus from larger centres.

“It’s been great,” said Hothi. The move back to B.C. enabled him to be closer to family again, with a sister and her family in Williams Lake who works for Interior Health, and the bulk of his family in the Lower Mainland.

“It’s been pretty surreal to be honest,” he said, of the shift from city life.

He had not been back to Williams Lake much since leaving, and said he is enjoying seeing people he went to school with doing good things in the community.

The son of David Hothi, his dad David is a business owner who lived in the lakecity for many years before moving to the South Surrey, White Rock area to be closer to more family. Munraj said the family had always been close to their cousins and relatives in the Lower Mainland.

David Hothi had maintained ownership of the Paradise Cinemas, with a local manager to run the day-to-day operations.

But his family already had some history in the community, as Munraj’s grandfather, Ajit Singh Hothi, was the first Indo-Canadian to settle in the Cariboo.

Ajit’s son David Hothi had been born in India but attended elementary school in Williams Lake, and Munraj said he was told his father was working four part-time jobs while in high school.

One of those jobs was at the Alston Theatre, now the Limelight Theatre, and David Hothi started out as a projectionist.

“This is the one that stuck and the one that he liked the most,” said Munraj of his father’s many part-time jobs.

His dad had the Paradise Cinemas built, originally the Paradise Twin Theatre, and for a short time, both theatres were even operating simultaneously in the lakecity. David Hothi had many other businesses in town as well, including a sandwich shop in Boitanio Mall’s food court, a video store and a driving school.

“My dad is the smartest business man I know,” said Munraj of his father.

Munraj recalled spending time in the Alston Theatre as a young boy.

His love for going to the theatre and movies has never gone away, and he said his favourites are old school gangster movies, though he also admits to being somewhat of a “fanboy” for the Marvel films as well.

Memories from the smaller lakecity theatres may be part of what led to Munraj deciding to return to Williams Lake to take over the operation of Paradise Cinemas once the manager announced he wanted to move on.

“I didn’t really want to see the family business that my dad has had since the late 70s get sold off to one of the chains,” he confessed.

“I think it was a no-brainer for me because I wanted to ease the transition for my dad.”

Operating the business, which he is partnering with his dad in, keeps him fairly busy, but he still finds time for some of his other hobbies, such as playing basketball in the winters and golfing, doing water sports and camping in the summer. Munraj has just committed to helping coach the Grade 9 boys basketball team and will also be busy with his newly adopted Golden Retriever puppy Lola.

The theatre had to shut down during parts of the pandemic, and things were slow to get going again because filmmaking and Hollywood had also been on pause, he has big hopes for this holiday season.

With no capacity restrictions, upgrades they undertook during the closures, and some highly anticipated films coming like the next Avatar movie, he’s hoping theatre-lovers will return to fill the more spaced-out seats.

Read more: Paradise Cinemas popcorn sale today, May 16, to aid food bank

Read more: VIDEO: Williams Lake’s Paradise Cinemas eyes June 18 re-opening if COVID-19 restrictions allow

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