HAMPTON — Owners of Hampton Cinema Six on Lafayette Road said they will close the theater by the end of the year after 25 years in business.
"This was a really tough decision for my family because we enjoy the movie theater and it's a great part of the community," said owner John Tinios.
Reports of the downtown theater's demise began last week when plans were filed with the town's Zoning Board of Adjustment to demolish the building and replace it with a retail pharmacy.
Tinios confirmed at Thursday night's Zoning Board meeting that the reports were true and that, next year, should all permits be granted, the site will be home to a CVS Pharmacy.
Tinios, who also owns The Galley Hatch restaurant, said was no longer economically feasible to continue to run the six-screen theater.
"In the past couple of years, we have found it necessary to subsidize the business, hoping that market conditions would improve," Tinios said. "Unfortunately, the trend has gone the other way, and the present economy has not helped the matter."
Tinios said the movie industry is changing, and it's making it difficult for independent theaters like his to survive.
"The movie industry has made significant changes in its film distribution schedules and pricing that have been detrimental to the small independent theater," Tinios said.
First-run movies, he said, have an accelerated release now that other options exist like pay-per-view and Netflix. Currently, the shelf life of a blockbuster is six weeks, which makes it impossible for small theaters with a limited number of screens to make money, he said.
"I remember when we first opened and 'E.T.' was the first big blockbuster we had," Tinios said. "That ran for six months. You don't have that anymore."
Tinios said another "dagger" striking at independent movie theaters is that, by 2010, all theaters will be going digital, with an estimated cost per screen between $300,000 to $400,000.
"The film companies have agreed to finance over a 10-year period, but most if not all the independents will be forced out of business by the costs," Tinios said.
"Only the multi-screen theaters will be left with big concession venues and amusement games."
Tinios said the owners explored whether another movie theater would want to purchase the Hampton complex, to no avail.
"That's when we decided to pursue other business that will keep Hampton growing and provide good jobs and retail options for the community."
The theater first opened its doors in 1980 and boasts having "the lowest ticket prices on the Seacoast."
Its "dinner and a movie special" with a meal at The Galley Hatch and then a movie at the cinema is a favorite of many.
"We have enjoyed the years at Hampton Cinemas and thank the many movie and dinner-and-movie patrons," Tinios said.
Tinios said the exact date of the theater's closing has not been set.
"It will probably be sometime after the summer season," Tinios said.
Meanwhile, the town's Zoning Board decided Thursday to continue a variance request for the project to demolish the existing theater and replace it with a retail/pharmacy building.
Tinios is seeking a variance from Article 4:8 of the zoning bylaws, which establishes the maximum amount of sealed surface per lot. The board held off making a decision until a drainage study is performed.
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