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ByTowne Cinema Announces Permanent Closure

ByTowne Cinema has announced that it will close its doors December 31, due to financial losses stemming from Covid-19 shutdowns.

ByTowne Cinema Announces Permanent Closure

Ottawa's independent cinema staple ByTowne Cinema has announced that it will close its doors December 31, due to financial losses stemming from Covid-19 shutdowns.

Owner Bruce White revealed the news in a statement posted to the theater's website. Read his full statement here:

"I have some sad news. I have decided to close the ByTowne, effective December 31st, 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.

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.

Many just don't want to make a non-essential trip to a cinema. Fewer customers. Fewer films, too.

Another factor in my decision to end programming as of December 31 is that we're running out of movies.

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.

Normal film distribution, normal cinema operations, and normal moviegoing are all waiting for a widely available coronavirus vaccine.

And that, realistically, is many months away. Perhaps more than a year.
And there's one other reason.

In August of 2019, I started seriously working on a succession plan. Who could I find to buy the business and carry on the ByTowne tradition? I'm at retirement age, and the cinema could use fresh ideas. I was making some progress at that. Then the pandemic hit.

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.

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.

Which brings us to some practical matters.

Unlike the government-ordered shutdowns of 2020, the December 31st closure is more permanent. We can no longer sell Memberships or our pre-paid Vouchers, because they are promises of services that we can no longer live up to.

If you recently bought a Membership, or purchased some Vouchers for yourself or as gifts, I want to reimburse you for what you've lost. It's a bit complicated, but I've put all the details and instructions on our web site. Please visit www.bytowne.ca/we-owe-you and read up on the instructions.

Is it too late for you to help? Well, actually, yes.

I know there are some of you who are willing to donate or loan money - anything to save the ByTowne. I've been so grateful for the kind messages and supportive purchases since March.

If the pandemic has done anything positive, it's shown me the deep affection that you have for the cinema we built together.

But it's a business, and the business model just isn't working now. I have two suggestions for channelling your love and support:

  • Consider donating to my new project, the Staff Appreciation Fund. There are 15 wonderful ByTowne employees, many of whom have been working here for (literally) decades, who now have to find new employment. E-transfer any amount to cinemail@bytowne.ca and I will make sure the Fund is equitably distributed to the staffers, ideally in time for Christmas.
  • Support the in-cinema experience in any way that you can. When post-pandemic life improves, attend any cinema, see any movie. Take chances; take friends; take a night off from Netflix.

I wish things could be different. My heartfelt thanks to you all."

Learn more here.


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