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The Hoka

This iconic gathering spot and its beloved owner left indelible marks on Oxford.

Written and Researched by Leslie Criss  |  Photos Courtesy of John Cofield

“The Hoka was where punk rockers like the UK Subs played, and Ole Miss football players, like George Plasketes, hung out. The Hoka was where Abbie Hoffman held court at the counter, and Alex Haley socialized with some of a thousand Ole Miss sorority girls who loved the place. The Hoka was Ronzo’s gift to Oxford, yes, but really to the universe.” — Chico Harris

Anyone living in Oxford or attending Ole Miss from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s likely has a memory or two — or many — of the Hoka.

Situated at 304 S. 14th Street, the elongated, corrugated building had once served as a cotton warehouse. When Ron “Ronzo” Shapiro came to Oxford, he was not happy with the movie offerings in town, so he renovated the old cotton warehouse and turned it into the Hoka Theatre.

When the Hoka opened in 1976, Shapiro began showing independent “art cinema” films not offered in other local movie theaters. Live music was also on the menu at the Hoka through the years.

On the outside of the building, a local artist, Jere Allen, painted the Hoka logo — a winged Chickasaw princess, who, according to legend, sold the land that is now Oxford to settlers. Allen also painted Charlie Chaplain and a slice of cheesecake. Through the years, other artists added their own touches. 

Candy, popcorn and soft drinks were sold as concessions, and in 1980, the Moonlight Cafe opened inside the Hoka, giving independent film lovers in the community the opportunity for dinner and a movie.

“Flo was the force in the kitchen,” said longtime Oxford resident and Hoka patron Chico Harris, about Flora Dean.

The Hoka closed in 1996. Shapiro died in 2019. The building that once housed his beloved Hoka has been demolished.

The memory of the Hoka and Shapiro live on in a new mural by Anna Murphy; JoJo Hermann’s “Chickasaw Princess” album released in 2022; a 2008 documentary film by Joe York titled “Sorry, We’re Open;” and even an active Hoka Theatre Facebook group.

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