ByTowne Cinema closing after more than 70 years
OTTAWA — After more than 70 years of showing films to Ottawa audiences, the curtain is set to fall at the Bytowne Cinema for the final time.
In a statement, ByTowne owner Bruce White announced the cinema will be closing on Dec. 31, citing fewer customers and fewer films available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” said White.
“The ByTowne has a fantastic customer base, but many ByTowners just aren’t coming these days. 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.”
The ByTowne on Rideau Street opened its doors on Feb. 10, 1947 as the Nelson cinema. According to the ByTowne website, Local entrepreneur Hyman Berlin built the cinema through the fall and winter of 1946. The first film was called “Johnny Frenchman.”
The ByTowne closed in the spring during the first wave of the pandemic, but reopened in July when Ottawa moved to Stage 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan. All movie theatres were forced to closed in Ottawa for 28 days in October when Ottawa moved to a modified Stage 2.
Theatres have been allowed to open in Ottawa since Nov. 7, when Ottawa moved to the orange-restrict zone as part of Ottawa’s coloured-coded COVID-19 restrictions.
The ByTowne says while there have been fewer customers during the pandemic, there have also been fewer films available.
“Another factor in my decision to end programming as of Dec. 31 is that we’re running out of movies,” writes White.
“Since the pandemic hit, distributors have also had to make some business decisions. They’ve sold some titles to streaming services, skipping the marketing expense of releasing them to only a few limited-seating cinemas. Other movies have been moved from fall and winter releases to, well, some unspecified point in a possibly rosier future.”
White says he started working on a succession plan in August, 2019, hoping to find someone to carrying on the ByTowne tradition and bring in fresh ideas.
“I was making some progress at that. Then the pandemic hit,” writes White, noting he was at retirement age.
“It’s still possible that someone will want to take over the ByTowne business and offer independent cinema to the ByTowne’s wonderful fan base. But it’s a scenario that’s unlikely until we get out of the eye of the pandemic storm.”
The ByTowne currently has 15 employees. White asks people to consider donating to his new project, “The Staff Appreciation Fund.”
“E-transfer any amount to email@example.com and I will make sure the Fund is equitably distributed to the staffers, ideally in time for Christmas,” said White.