Curtain closing on Kukui Grove Cinema

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Jana Pave picks up a load of to-go items from the Kukui Grove Cinema snack shop in Lihu‘e on her way to work Saturday afternoon. The snack shop is open today from noon to 6 p.m., and from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, after which it will close for the last time.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Jana Pave leaves the Kukui Grove Cinema with a load of to-go items from the snack shop in Lihu‘e Saturday afternoon. The snack shop is open today from noon to 6 p.m., and 1:30 to 6:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, after which it will close for the last time.

LIHU‘E — The owner of Kauai’s only full-time movie theater, Kukui Grove Cinema 4, said Saturday the facility will close permanently Tuesday, apparently the victim of the COVID-19 crisis and the changing nature of the movie business and people’s viewing habits.

“We are closing as a theater, yes,” said Marlene Blair, who has owned Kukui Grove Cinema for 35 years. “The theater is not going to be open as a theater.” She did not say how the theater complex in Lihu‘e could be repurposed.

Blair’s comments came in response to questions about several statements on the theater’s website. The entries said “Closed Tuesday, March 31, at 6:30 p.m. for the last time,” “the plug has been pulled on us,” and “right now, I’m trying to grasp the reality that, after 35 years, just like that, poof, it’s over.”

Blair said the closure had been precipitated by actions taken by Kaua‘i County, but, pressed on what the actions were, she identified Mayor Derek Kawakami’s March 21 emergency COVID-19 order. It mandates shutdowns of all “theaters, entertainment centers and visitor attractions” as part of the county’s effort to limit the spread of the virus.

A county spokesperson said she was unaware of any specific county action pertaining to Kukui Grove Cinema 4 other than the March 21 shutdown order, which applies countywide.

For more than a week, according to its website, Kukui Grove Cinema 4 has tried to keep its concession stand open, selling candy, drinks and other items. Other theaters across the country have done the same thing.

A Los Angeles Times story reported that the owner of the six-screen Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax, Virginia, had switched to concession sales only in an attempt to keep as many of his employees working as he could.

Movie theaters across the country have closed temporarily by the thousands in the last three weeks, and a national trade group that represents them tried without success to get the motion-picture-exhibition industry included specifically in the massive federal bail-out bill signed into law by President Donald Trump on Thursday.

However, the Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication, noted on Wednesday that movie theaters appear to qualify for U.S. Small Business Administration loans included in the stimulus bill, which has a projected total size of nearly $4.2 trillion. The bill earmarks $454 billion in immediate funding for loan guarantees to help businesses whose revenue streams have dried up because of the COVID-19 crisis.

In two brief phone interviews, Kukui Grove Cinema 4’s Blair said her decision to go out of business came after she concluded the theater faced possible bankruptcy.

The trade group, the National Association of Theatre Owners, sought government loan guarantees, tax benefits and federal money to offset lost ticket and concession sales. The association’s CEO, John Fithian, was quoted on the MarketWatch business website as saying the nation’s theater industry is “uniquely vulnerable” during the COVID-19 crisis.

Industry observers have warned that many theaters — particularly small, locally owned operations — would be unable to survive. NATO represents operators of 33,000 screens in all 50 states, with a total of about 150,000 employees.

Kukui Grove Cinema 4 has suffered from weak attendance for several years. Blair said that, like many small operations in the exhibition trade, her theater had been having trouble competing with increasing use of video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

At one time, Kaua‘i had more than a dozen movie theaters, many of which were built by sugar plantations for use by employees and their families and friends. A 2015 profile in The Garden Island of the island’s theater industry noted that, at one time, there were theaters in Kekaha, Waimea, Koloa, Kealia, Kapa‘a, Lihu‘e, Kalaheo and Hanapepe.

Several of the original theater buildings — especially in Kilauea and Hanapepe — can still be seen. The historic Waimea Theatre is still in operation, showing movies mostly on weekends. It originally opened in 1938, but closed in 1972 and was converted into warehouse space, according to the Cinema Treasures website. The Waimea Theatre reopened in 1999 as a motion-picture exhibitor and community-performance and meeting space.

In recent years, the industry has been dominated by large national chains, like AMC Entertainment, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark Theaters. Strictly local theater operators, especially those like Kukui Grove Cinema 4, with just one property, have become increasingly rare.

•••

Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.

24 Comments
  1. Susan Campbell March 29, 2020 12:44 am Reply

    We so hate to hear of this theatre’s closing. We’ve seen many fine films there and enjoyed chatting with Marlene at movie’s end. Be well, Marlene; we will miss you and your staff, who have always been so considerate to me.


  2. John Patt March 29, 2020 8:01 am Reply

    We’ll miss you guys. Thanks for being here all of these years.


  3. Howard Tolbe March 29, 2020 8:12 am Reply

    Kaumakani had a theater, too!


  4. jake March 29, 2020 8:24 am Reply

    No sympathy. You should have voluntarily shut down weeks ago. If you’re just getting around to it now, you’re just as guilty of spreading the virus as a cruise ship. Shame on you for putting it off this long. A theater where people sit elbow to elbow? What were you thinking?


    1. jeremy campbell March 30, 2020 4:35 pm Reply

      Jake, they did shut down voluntarily weeks ago, this article is about them closing for good, as in not opening up after this is all over. maybe read the whole article or know your facts before you comment


    2. Jeremy M Campbell March 30, 2020 4:53 pm Reply

      They did shut down weeks ago this article is about them not opening up at all after this is over.


  5. douglas henry March 29, 2020 9:17 am Reply

    Please, say it ain’t so!


  6. shelly March 29, 2020 11:33 am Reply

    I am so sad…… thinking movie theaters might have a big comeback after all of this virus stuff is over….. people would want to come out of their homes and enjoy a time at the movies!!


  7. Michael Mann March 29, 2020 11:45 am Reply

    Interesting how Blair tries to blame her business’ failure, after having a virtual monopoly on the island for many years, to the very SANE decision to limit human-to-human contact during a global pandemic. Is she saying she would rather her business remain open to endanger the entire island’s health? Was she taking it upon herself to provide face masks and face shields for patrons to help protect against the spread of the virus while they were in her establishment, to show that she understood the gravity of the situation but was willing and able to do whatever it took to not only remain open but to be A RESPONSIBLE ENTITY IN THE COMMUNITY? For the past several years the theater has instituted policies that have been “patron unfriendly,” and this petulant attitude on Blair’s part is just more of the same.

    I say good riddance. The island does not need this kind of businessperson.

    Now, the stage is set for a more modern facility to come in–something which Blair fought against claiming that it would kill their business. Well, it appears she has killed it herself, so it is time to move on.


    1. dodo March 29, 2020 1:57 pm Reply

      Unduly harsh. We have noted the shrinking audience over time. Went at least a couple of times a month.

      Yeah, I’d prefer an Imax screen too, but can this island support those ticket prices? You should also have to have normal sized screens as well…

      I dunno. I just do not enjoy movies in my living room the same way – no matter what size screen…


      1. Michael Mann March 30, 2020 9:07 pm Reply

        Not unduly harsh at all. It seems very clear from the article that she puts special blame on the social distancing measures and those ALONE for shutting down her business. THAT IS AN INEXCUSABLY IRRESPONSIBLE STANCE. We don’t need irresponsible business owners here.

        Streaming media has been a developing thing for many years. New technologies replace old all of the time. It was inevitable that this business would eventually have to fold. I’ve seen her do absolutely NOTHING over the past 15 years to try to remain a viable and desirable business. As I said before, IT ENJOYED A MONOPOLY. That gravy train has run out. Blaming the only logical course of action in the face of a virus spreading across the globe for her woes indicates a complete lack of scruples.

        I am BEYOND SICK of how people are behaving with respect to the current situation. People don’t seem to get the seriousness of the situation. Did she bother to consider what good it would do for her to have a theater if a large portion of the population dies? Does she think her theater would survive that? The sheer ARROGANCE and lack of forethought makes my blood boil!


        1. Umm March 31, 2020 4:23 pm Reply

          From the article:
          “Blair said that, like many small operations in the exhibition trade, her theater had been having trouble competing with increasing use of video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.”

          From you:
          “It seems very clear from the article that she puts special blame on the social distancing measures and those ALONE for shutting down her business.”

          So, um, maybe a little harsh?


    2. Jesse March 29, 2020 3:07 pm Reply

      Not sure I could put it any better, this place has been a mess for decades. What happened to the idea of a new AMC theater behind the old K-Mart?


    3. 1haole March 29, 2020 4:50 pm Reply

      Brah i tink you get da ukus


    4. LMat March 30, 2020 9:03 am Reply

      I’ve been turned away before.
      I had chosen to take my teenage sons to an R-rated movie, one that I deemed ok for them to see with me (the recent It sequel, barely even qualifies for an R rating). We were turned away and told they don’t let minors in to R-rated films, even if accompanied by a parent!! I was like, “Whaaaaa…? You don’t want my money…?!! K, BYE.”
      Although I can’t say I’m glad they are out of business, why turn patrons away, especially if you were already struggling…?


      1. Michael Mann March 30, 2020 9:14 pm Reply

        Exactly. As I said, “patron unfriendly practices.” You can’t do this and expect people to keep coming back, unless, of course, you are riding the monopoly train.

        Well, I guess that train just got derailed by a bit of rogue DNA spreading like wildfire through the global population.


  8. Sherri Mudd March 29, 2020 11:55 am Reply

    Hi Alan,
    Don’t you live in Kilauea? Did you forget about that theater?


    1. Allan Parachini March 29, 2020 2:03 pm Reply

      Yes, I live in Kilauea. It is mentioned in the story, in the next graf.


  9. Mark Wolfendale March 29, 2020 2:40 pm Reply

    Was this theater ever put up for sale?


  10. Jason Babila March 29, 2020 7:04 pm Reply

    I miss going to the Roxy Theater.


  11. aym March 29, 2020 7:47 pm Reply

    The owners has been a block on other major other theaters trying to open to provide more value and options for our residents and customers. “From the ashes the phoenix will rise”


  12. randy kansas March 30, 2020 8:11 am Reply

    Technology is killing the old school theaters in more ways than just Netflix and Amazon;

    our family had a small town movie theater and it was closed, due to the fact that the high tech equipment needed to modernize in order to show movies in the new formats, versus the old method of reel-to reel, was going to cost more $$$ than we brought in over 5-10 years; so my aunt closed the place;

    hated to see that, it was old school and not much else to do in the small town; $5 for adults and $3 for kids; never made much money but was good for the community;

    that just comes with the territory….the best buggy whip maker in town is no longer needed either !!!


  13. jeremy campbell March 30, 2020 4:40 pm Reply

    Jake, they did shut down voluntarily weeks ago, this article is about them closing for good, as in not opening up after this is all over. maybe read the whole article or know your facts before you comment


  14. Mike Brenner March 30, 2020 4:58 pm Reply

    So sorry to see this go, I split my time between the Yosemite area and Kauai and our small town movie theatre closed down a couple years ago. A new owner took it over and re-opened it as part of the Movie Heroes group. The concept is a monthly subscription in which Members have to pay a monthly subscription, currently 19.95, and get to watch unlimited movies for the month. If they want to bring a guest, the guest is $5.50 for the one time showing. It has been really successful and saved this theatre from closing for good.
    Maybe post-virus?


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