By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Sitting in his opulent Mesa office, Michael Pollack is proud of what he’s accomplished. Drive up and down Alma School Road and Pollack’s name is present on most strip malls.

He’s refurbished and renovated shopping centers across the Valley, turning eyesores into viable business ventures. But there’s more to Pollack than that. He’s a frequent contributor to charities and he yearns to make the holidays happier by wildly decorating his Pollack Tempe Cinemas with more than a half-million holiday lights.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, November 21, the real estate entrepreneur will flip the switch and offer free holiday movies at his cinema on the corner of McClintock and Elliot roads in Tempe. The movies—“Elf,” “Polar Express,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”—will begin at 6:30 p.m. that night.

“This is absolutely my favorite time of year,” Pollack says. “We are so excited for everyone to come out and enjoy the incredible holiday light display and the free holiday movies at Pollack Tempe Cinemas. This is always a festive time to kick off the holidays and get everyone into the holiday spirit.”

Carolers will greet guests in front of the theater from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The holiday lights will be on display through Sunday, January 5. Santa will make a special guest appearance from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, December 21, for free photographs.

“Families can bring their cameras and they can take their pictures and it costs them absolutely nothing for that day,” he says.

“The amount of people who appreciate this is overwhelming because, even though the economy is good right now, unfortunately, there are still a lot of people in this state and our country who aren’t doing that great. Little things like this mean a lot.”

One young couple told Pollack they hadn’t been to a movie theater before the holiday event.

“The looks on their faces were priceless,” Pollack says. “They were probably spoiled after that because here they’re seeing a movie theater that’s all decked out inside and out with all this animation and lights.

“The young lady said to me, ‘Is it always like this?’ And I said, ‘Well, we don’t always have as many lights. That’s for sure.’ It just goes to show you that what some people take for granted, other people truly dream about doing or appreciate.”

New venture

Successful in real estate, Michael Pollack never considered running a movie theater.

“I never in a million years thought I would be running a movie theater,” he says. “We bought the plaza and we didn’t know until the very end of the escrow period that they were going to close this theater.”

Pollack says he had three choices: retrofit it and turn it into something else—which was going to be “extremely expensive;” open a downhill bowling alley, thanks to the slanted floors; or keep the theater.

“I was getting tons of calls saying the movie theater couldn’t close,” he says. “If I was going to keep it, it had to be something we could be proud of. So, I just had it completely renovated as it had not been renovated since the first renovation, which was about 20 years ago when we took it over.”

In Pollack’s Mesa office is a memorabilia museum, so he had the wise thought to rotate in and out of the theater pieces from his collection.

“We can’t really open the museum to the public because we also work in this building,” he says.

“So, we bring pieces from the museum over to the theater and we rotate them in and out. People get a chance to see a portion of what we have here in the museum. There’s a reason that people like the theater, though. It’s because it delivers first-class service and atmosphere at very reasonable prices.

“Unfortunately, there’s no real profit in that business. We own the shopping center, so we’re able to keep it going.”

Light ‘em up

The holiday light display isn’t easy to set up at the 85,000-square-foot center. It requires an eight- to 10-man crew about six weeks to hang the lights.

“People don’t realize how big of a job it really is because it’s hard to fathom how big the whole plaza is,” he says.

“If somebody’s decorating their house or when I used to do my office—this office building was always spectacular, and we had tens of thousands of people who would come by—it’s hard to judge. It was nothing compared to what it takes to do an entire shopping center.”

That doesn’t count the landscaping and trees.

“It’s rewarding to when people get really excited about it, though,” he says. “I get many letters or emails and they say for those few hours, they were able to put all their troubles and all their concerns behind them.”

Pollack’s holiday merriment goes beyond the theater. He and his band perform on a glowing float during the Tempe Parade of Lights on Friday, November 29, and the APS Light Parade on Saturday, December 7. Both parades start at 7 p.m.

As a special treat, Pollack’s team of elves have been working for months and have just completed what he hopes will be his final float renovation.

“We didn’t think it was possible, but we actually found a way to add twice as many LED lights to our float and make it even brighter than ever,” Pollack says. “We are pretty certain that our lights will be visible from outer space.”

Again, this is really rewarding.

“It’s fun to play with my band and do the parades, but when I see the kids along the parade route and they’re dancing to Motown songs, it’s great,” he says. “Their parents might not even have been born when some of these songs came out, but they enjoy it.”

Longtime musician

Pollack has been into music since he was 10, when he hit the drums for the first time. At 18, he was invited on a musical tour abroad, but after weighing his options, he decided to follow his family into the construction business.

He quit music in 1973, only to return to it in 2008 when he saw a rather unappealing band.

“They were lower than a garage band,” he says with a hearty laugh. “My wife, Cheryl, knew I could play because she’d seen me play years ago when on our first date. The lead singer sounded like a cat that was getting its tail stepped on.

“She asked me if I wanted to start a band. I said, ‘Start a band? Are you serious?’ The next thing I knew, I just formed this band. Back in the ’70s, when I quit, I said if I ever come back to music, I’m going to come back under my terms. I didn’t want to do it for money. I just do it for fun.”

His bandmates are professional musicians, but Pollack just performs for the love of it. They only play charity events.

“We did as many as 35 shows in one year and we never charged the charities anything,” he says proudly.

“As a matter of fact, I pay the professional musicians I have myself. It’s just a good time for everyone.”

Pollack Tempe Cinemas, 1825 E. Elliot Road, Tempe, 480.345.6461, pollacktempecinemas.com