A “Domino Corner” in Westland Mall has brought many seniors out of their homes thanks to an advertising partnership with Hialeah Hospital that began last year.
The hospital pays $1,600 per month to advertise there.
The idea came to Michael Bell, Hialeah Hospital CEO, one Saturday after watching seniors play dominoes while drinking their café con leche at the mall on 1675 W 49th St.
“After speaking to some of them, they all had one thing in common, they love dominoes,” said Bell. ” Some seniors found it the reason to get up, get dressed, and head out the door at 8 a.m. each morning.”
“That’s when we decided to support this healthy routine. It helps their mind, it helps seniors stay active and it motivates them to live better.”
As if that weren’t reason enough for Hialeah Hospital to sponsor a Domino Corner, Bell added that some of his Cuban-born employees expressed to him that they learned to count by playing dominoes as children.
The program took off and many seniors flock to Westland Mall every day.
Miriam Romero and her husband drive to Westland Mall every day with one thing on their mind: dominoes. Not even physical maladies stop them from attending every day.
“I come here every single day. Before we had this little spot, we played with one table. When they put this dominoes corner here, it was a blessing,” said Romero.
Romero said that before, they only had one table and waited in long lines. They had permission from the mall to reserve one table and one table only.
When the hospital decided to sponsor the Domino Corner, the mall added four tables with Cuban and Miami art painted on them.
Another thing that changed, according to many of the seniors there, is that everyone can play. When it was a self-sponsored game, it was only seniors. Now, Hialeah Hospital and Westland Mall promote it as a Domino Corner for the community.
Romero and her husband aren’t regular patients of Hialeah Hospital. However, she suffered from a fall and says the hospital took good care of her.
“We are already older. The children live their lives apart and so we’re not bored, we come here to entertain ourselves,” said Romero.
“Dominoes is what entertains us the most. What we share with our family and friends.”
Romero played dominoes as a young girl in Cuba. While her mother didn’t entertain herself with dominoes, she and her brothers, cousins and uncles surely did.
As she sat down to play her turn at the table with the other men, they spoke highly of her skill at dominoes.
During games, players talk about their personal lives, politics and even gossip. Observers sometimes become professional commentators as they wait their turn.
Some tables are rowdy. Others are calm. It depends on the temperament and patience of those playing.
This rings especially true for Julio Sanchez, who says the game incites some very heated discussions that are personal, political or strictly about the game. “We never physically fight. But we argue over bad plays or if we think someone’s cheating. It’s an emotional game,” said Sanchez.
Some seniors have been coming since long before Hialeah Hospital joined up in 2018. Sanchez, born in Havana Cuba, has been coming here for 15 years. Before arriving on the Westland Mall dominoes scene, Sanchez watched his father and friends play in Havana in the ’50s.
Sanchez says the bodega owners would take out a couple of beers and ham and they would play for money. The game would start at 8 a.m. and end around 2 a.m. every day.
“I watched my father play my entire childhood. The bodega owner used to close his shop and the playing would commence in the back table they had set up. I used to go and watch them, and I learned that way.”
He started playing at the age of 18 and never stopped. He even has a domino table at his house so that when he’s not at the mall, he’s still able to slap them onto a table.
He believes it’s great for mental health. “It gets the gears going. It develops your mind thinking about the move you’re going to make next or how you are going to play. It’s very good for our mental health,” said Sanchez.
Now, he drives himself to the mall three times a week and even skips out on his wife’s cooking just to get there. He says it’s a game that can turn you into an addict.
“We had our own domino group here that would come every day for 15 years,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez says they created a group of seniors. He was president. They took group pictures and charged each member to cover expenses.
“We paid a monthly fee of $2 that would go to domino repairs when they would get old, lost or broken. We’d host Christmas parties at the end of the year with that money as well,” said Sanchez.
Now the hospital supplies dominoes quarterly and even has its own tournaments.
“We host an annual domino tournament at Westland Mall in our Domino Corner, located in the food court, on Father’s Day in June and during Hispanic Heritage Month in October,” says Bell.
“The Domino Corner at Westland Mall promotes a healthy routine for seniors and promotes seniors to stay active and helps keep their mind focused. It also helps them by giving them a purpose to step out of their homes.”
The Westland Mall Domino Corner is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. except for Sundays, when it ceases operation at 7 p.m.