The theatre has been open since 1947
In yet another casualty of 2020, beloved Ottawa landmark, the Bytowne Cinema on Rideau Street, will be closing its doors permanently on Dec. 31.
Owner Bruce White expressed the reasoning behind his decision in a somber social media post on Friday afternoon.
“The cinema has been losing money every day since the pandemic hit,” said White in the post.
“I wish things could be different,” he said, explaining his ongoing plans to retire and COVID-19’s impact on those plans. “If there’s eventual interest from [a buyer], 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.”
The Bytowne Cinema has been open since 1947 and has been run by White since 1988. The theatre has long been a favourite spot in Ottawa’s ByWard Market, acting as a crucial venue for independent film screenings.
The cinema is also a key location for several film festivals in Ottawa, particularly the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF).
“The OIAF has survived a lot of challenges and will move ahead, but this news is a real heartbreaker,” said OIAF in a Facebook post in response to the announcement.
Ottawa audiences have taken this news hard, flocking to social media to share their memories of the theatre.
Shawn Menard, Ottawa city councillor, tweeted: “City Bailout for ByTowne Cinema! Too big to fail…”, a sentiment which has been echoed by many as the public comes together to mourn the landmark.
Some have called for city bailouts, a public GoFundMe (which Bruce White confirmed is not affiliated with the theatre), or a private buyer.
“Bytowne” was trending on Twitter on Dec. 4, which the theatre acknowledged, saying “what a crummy time to finally reach this Twitter milestone!”.
Jean Cloutier, former co-owner of the cinema and current city councillor for Alta Vista, also took to Twitter on Dec. 4.
“What a sad day. Bruce White & I bought & converted the old Nelson Cinema and opened @ByTowne on October 1 1988. He has lost his passion project, staff have lost their livelihood and Ottawa has lost an important cultural alternative to mainstream cinema. We are poorer now.”
It is clear that there is general interest in saving the theatre, but due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, it is unlikely that any independent cinema will be financially viable until people feel safe spending time in public spaces again.
Those looking to donate to the theatre are encouraged to give to the Staff Appreciation Fund, which will be dispersed evenly between the theatre’s fifteen employees.
“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,” concluded White in his goodbye letter to the public.