Ottawa (Canada) December 5: Ottawa's independent ByTowne Cinema is closing at the end of the month after more than 30 years in business, its owner announced Friday.
In a Facebook post and email to members, Bruce White said a combination of factors including the COVID-19 pandemic led to the decision to shut down permanently on Dec. 31, 2020.
"The cinema has been losing money every day since the pandemic hit. Even when we've been allowed to be open, audiences are dramatically smaller," White wrote.
"And I don't blame them: our staff have done an amazing job with COVID protocols that keep customers as safe as possible, but everyone's risk assessment is personal, and specific to their circumstances."
Distributors holding back new releases
As well, distributors have been holding back on releasing new films, White wrote.
"They've sold some titles to streaming services, skipping the marketing expense of releasing them to only a few limited-seating cinemas," he wrote. "Other movies have been moved from fall and winter releases to, well, some unspecified point in a possibly rosier future."
White, who has owned and operated the cinema since 1988, said he's also been planning to retire.
"I was making some progress at that. Then the pandemic hit," he wrote. "If there's eventual interest from someone, you may see ByTowne 2.0 someday. No-one will be more delighted than me, and I'll be there as one of you, a happy spectator of amazing movies. But I won't be your programmer."
White added that anyone who wishes to support the ByTowne financially can consider donating to a ByTowne staff appreciation fund. Once they feel safe to do so, he also encourages Ottawans to give streaming services a break for a night and go out to a movie.
Competitor's heart broken
Residents across the the city have been expressing their disappointment at the downtown landmark's imminent closure.
"I love the ByTowne," said Lee Demarbre, who co-owns the Mayfair Theatre and worked at ByTowne Cinema for nine years. "I've been going since 1988. As a movie goer, my heart is broken certainly, for this loss."
The first film Demarbre ever saw at the single-screen theatre was The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a film he was able to take his son to see for his first visit to the ByTowne.
"The ByTowne changed me. It changed me for the better in so many different ways," he said. "I probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the ByTowne."
He said it is worrying that what he saw as a normally successful single-screen cinema is now closing because of the pandemic and hopes his own theatre will survive through the next year.
Independent businesses suffering
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, whose ward encompasses the cinema, said the closure of the ByTowne further demonstrates the harmful effects of the pandemic on local businesses.
"Our main streets are important. They're the life blood of our economy. The ByTowne itself had such an important anchor along Rideau Street."
Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier echoed those sentiments. He co-owned the cinema for a number of years before leaving the business in the 1990s.
Cloutier said White has done an "outstanding" job running the cinema over the past decades.
"It really really hurts," he said. "The economy that is going to emerge from the COVID pandemic is going to be so much different than the economy we had last January."
Source: CBC News