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'I just wish I could save all crumbling cinemas'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 20, 2013

  • People queue for the flicks at the Ritz in Penzance, in its heyday

  • Geoff Greaves has just added a third Penzance venue to his Merlin Cinemas empire

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A man who loves old cinemas has added another to his collection after being unable to bear the thought of a crumbling Art Deco structure being sacrificed to the wrecker's ball.

Geoff Greaves has just signed the deal to purchase the Ritz in Penzance, his second venue in the town where his collection, which now encompasses a dozen cinemas, began.

As owner of the independent Merlin chain, which has kept cinema thriving on the high streets in small towns across the Westcountry, he said it would have been a tragedy if plans to turn the site into flats had gone ahead.

So, within weeks of setting foot behind the less-than- elegant facade of the cinema- turned-bingo hall-turned-community venue, he got out his chequebook.

"I know it looks dreadful from the outside," he conceded. "But inside there is a lovely old-fashioned Art Deco interior.

"It is tired, but I can see in my mind's eye what it will look like when we do it up and when we restore that wonderful Art Deco interior."

Mr Greaves said he hadn't really been thinking about expanding his empire, which stretches from Ilfracombe to Okehampton in Devon, as well as sites in Falmouth, Helston and Redruth in Cornwall. However, when alerted to the probable fate of the Ritz as a potential demolition site to make way for flats, he felt he had to do something.

"I knew we had to do something or it would have gone to development and if we hadn't bought it it would have been knocked down within six months and that would have been a tragedy."

Film fan Mr Greaves was a former manager of one of the UK's first multiplexes in the Home Counties when he decided to become a movie mogul in his right – but at the opposite end of the scale.

In 1980, he sold his house and bought the run-down and virtually bankrupt Savoy cinema on Causewayhead in Penzance. Five months later, he purchased the equally declining Royal in the town and the rest – as they say in the movies – is history.

Each of the cinemas in the chain are town-centre establishments which have been brought back to life and put at the heart of their communities thanks to Mr Greaves.

It is something of a labour of love, he would be the first to admit. "I don't see all of my job as work, it's almost like a hobby collecting these big buildings and preserving them," he said. "I have to say that it gives me great pleasure to be able to bring these buildings back to life. I just wish I could do it to them all."

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