Ottawa's ByTowne Cinema Announces Closure

The 650-seat theatre will close December 31
Ottawa's ByTowne Cinema Announces Closure
Ottawa's ByTowne Cinema — a single-screen, 650-seat theatre beloved by locals for its international and independent film programming — has announced plans to close come the end of this year.

Operator Bruce White made the announcement today, citing difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting restrictions. He wrote that the ByTowne "has been losing money every day since the pandemic hit. Even when we've been allowed to be open, audiences are dramatically smaller."

White noted, "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."

Additionally, White pointed to the decision being influenced by a shortage of films to screen. He explained, "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 also shared that in August of 2019, he had been working on a succession plan for the cinema, as he is "at retirement age, and the cinema could use fresh ideas."

"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," he wrote. "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."

White has made plans to refund those who recently purchased memberships or vouchers, and has asked fans of the ByTowne to contribute to a Staff Appreciation Fund that will be equitably distributed to the theatre's 15 employees. He also urged theatregoers, "When post-pandemic life improves, attend any cinema, see any movie. Take chances; take friends; take a night off from Netflix."

The ByTowne Cinema first opened as the Nelson Theatre in 1947, and as the theatre's website mentions, a full-page newspaper ad announcing its arrival in capital touted "all the modern conveniences, including an air conditioning system and the very best in 'terrazzo' flooring."

Two years after opening, the Nelson was leased to Famous Players, who handled screenings for nearly 40 years. Upon the company making the move to multiplexes in 1988, the theatre became the ByTowne.