Ottawa

A tale of 2 cinemas: As one prepares to raise the curtain, another remains dark

While one Ottawa movie theatre prepares to reopen for Stage 3, another has decided the province's strict 50-patron limit just isn't viable.

Stage 3 allows cinemas to admit just 50 patrons, no matter how many screens they have

Ottawa's ByTowne Cinema is hoping to open its doors to the public the week of July 24, one week after Stage 3 of the province's reopening plan takes effect in much of Ontario. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

While one Ottawa movie theatre prepares to reopen for Stage 3, another has decided to keep the curtains lowered, at least for now.

The next step of Ontario's phased reopening plan begins Friday, with the exception of the Greater Toronto Area and other parts of southern Ontario.

In Ottawa and eastern Ontario, that means theatres and cinemas will be allowed to reopen as long as they follow strict health and safety measures including physical distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols and Plexiglas barriers. 

Movie theatres will be limited to just 50 patrons, regardless of the number of screens they have.

Bruce White, who owns and programs films at the ByTowne Cinema in downtown Ottawa, said he can operate under those restrictions for now, but not for long.

"If somebody said you can't run the business ever again with more than 50 people in the room, I would definitely be calling up the real estate people and seeing what I could do ... because 50 people is not profitable in the long run as a maximum," he said.

A business of averages

The single-screen theatre on Rideau Street, which opened in 1947, can hold up to 650 people. While not every seat is occupied every night, White said popular films that are well-attended help keep the theatre running.

"The business is really about averages," he said. "Those big attendances on a Friday or Saturday night can pay for an awful lot of programmers' mistakes when there are only a few people in the room."

White said his theatre won't be ready to open its doors this Friday, but he hopes to welcome patrons back next week.

Bill Walker, CEO of Landmark Cinemas Canada, says reopening multiplexes to just 50 patrons at a time is financially unviable. (Supplied)

It's a different story at some of Ottawa's multiplexes, including Landmark Cinemas in Kanata, which has 24 screens.

"It's just not practical," said Landmark Cinemas Canada CEO Bill Walker of the province's 50-person limit. "You just can't open a facility like that for 50 people total."

Given the size of our venues, and the amount of staff just to open up these venues, there really is no purpose in opening.- Bill Walker, Landmark Cinemas Canada

Walker said it's simply not economically viable to reopen until more patrons are allowed.

"Given the size of our venues, and the amount of staff just to open up these venues, there really is no purpose in opening."

Walker said in Alberta, where his company is based, auditoriums can have up to 100 people at a time as long as physical distancing is maintained. Landmark's theatres in that province have staggered show times and carefully control how people enter and exit their venues.

Walker said he's hoping further consultations with government will lead to an increase in the number of people allowed in each screening room.

"I'm hopeful that we'll find a way to get to a per auditorium number," he said.

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