The closure of Hastings Reading Cinemas and the repair work on the Manawatu Gorge are sending movie-goers towards Waipukurau, where RealD 3D cinema technology has reinvigorated interest in the country town's big screen.

The Civic Theatre is owned by the Central Hawke's Bay District Council and has been managed by former CHB deputy mayor Jim and Sandra Shand for 12 years.

Last year, the council and Mr Shand struck up a deal which enabled the theatre to switch over to a digital projector as well as RealD 3D technology, as there were fewer movies available on the old standard 35mm format.

"Our figures were showing a rapid decline ... single-screen theatres like ours in this position have two options, to close down or upgrade," he said.


"It's a huge cost to switch over to digital but it's happening at a fast uptake rate and, by 2015, the transition will be completed and it won't be economical to have 35mm films anymore."

Mr Shand said most other single-screen theatres had opted to close over the years, such as the ones in Dannevirke and Wairoa. But Waipukurau's ownership and management model had been the difference in keeping the theatre alive for Hawke's Bay.

"I say we are a Hawke's Bay theatre, we complement the other theatres in the region. And, since upgrading, we have enjoyed a 40 per cent increase in patronage, with January marking a 45 per cent increase on last year.

"With all the road works at the Manawatu Gorge, we've been marketing ourselves to Dannevirke, telling people it's easier to come and see our cinema and not to bother going over the Saddle Rd to Palmerston North."

Informal surveys with patrons had helped the theatre understand where people were visiting from, with Havelock North and Hastings now among the more regular place names listed.

Mr Shand said the closure of Hastings Reading Cinemas would add to Waipukurau's appeal, although he predicted another operator would come into town soon.

"Cinemas work on a scale of 10,000 people per screen, so we have lost about 30 per cent of screens in the region - that's a huge loss in the short term.

"Readings did the same thing down in Coastlands as they have done in Hastings, and not long after that Cinema Gold in Palmerston North moved in to take its place there."


Mr Shand said a new theatre for Hastings might not necessarily re-open on Heretaunga St, where Readings closed down the cinema a few weeks ago.

"Cinemas need high traffic volume and you can't get that where it is at the moment," he said. "The most ideal place would be at [The Park] Mega Centre, where there is plenty of parking and people."