First multi-screen theatre in world shuts down

After entertaining Canadians for more than 22 years, the doors of the Cineplex Odeon Theatres at the Eaton Centre have closed. They were first opened to international fanfare two decades ago as the first multi-screen theatre complex in the world.

But now, signs have been posted at Cineplex Odeon's one-time flagship movie complex thanking customers for their patronage and directing them to nearby, open, Cineplex theatres.

A spokesperson for the company says a new, competing multiplex in downtown Toronto was a factor in the shut down of the Eaton Centre Cineplex.

The American chain AMC plans to build a multi-screen theatre at the corner of Yonge and Dundas the same corner as the Eaton Centre location.

And the Vice-president of Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation says it would be difficult for the 22-year old complex to compete.

Mindy Tucker said Loews was also unable to reach a suitable deal with its landlord over a new lease.

The closure comes only weeks after Cineplex Odeon's parent company filed for bankruptcy protection and was bought out by Onex Corp., an investment company run by takeover guru Gerry Schwartz.

When the 18-theatre complex opened in 1979, it was a state-of-the-art multiplex that received a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.

At the beginning, the theatres ran foreign-language and artistic films. More recently, they attracted younger audiences by showing second-run films and charging cut-rate admission prices.

The theatres at the Eaton Centre laid the foundation for today's megaplexes. Co-founders Garth Drabinsky and veteran Canadian movie mogul Nat Taylor didn't just put multiple screens under one roof. They also sold espressos and fresh pastries along with popcorn and soda. They hung art on the theatre walls, staggered starting times and sold tickets in advance.

And while the concept was incredibly successful, it eventually became the company's downfall. Loews Cineplex staggered under the weight of today's huge complexes, where the sounds of video games compete with movies played on super-sized screens.

In mid-February, Cineplex announced it was shutting 23 theatres across Canada. At the time, the company said four screens in Toronto would be closed.

The closure at the Eaton Centre pushes that number to five and puts 39 additional, mostly part-time employees, out of work.

Tucker says she is not able to rule out even more theatre closures.