NEWS -- Since 1938, East Broadway’s Rio Theatre has shown first-run films, cult classics and live entertainment, but the screen has been dark since late November when COVID protocols targeted theatres.

Restaurants and bars, however, have still been allowed to operated under certain restrictions.

After unsuccessfully lobbying the government, owners of the independent cinema decided to get creative and use their existing liquor license to become a sports bar.

"It's frustrating for us because it shouldn't make a difference what's on the screen,” said owner Corinne Lea. “If you can watch sports you should be able to watch movies. I don't think COVID cares what's on the screen."

She plans to open as a sports venue every day, pouring draft beer, wine and spirits, and offering up snacks and a happy hour for patrons watching football, basketball and hockey.

As a sports bar, the Rio will have limited capacity and spaced out seating, and will adhere to all COVID-19 protocols that apply to bars and restaurants.

"I don't think it should matter what's on screen because every business is trying to make it through COVID,” said East Vancouver resident Allyson Staddon as she saw the theatre’s marquee advertising the concept change.

“Hopefully, this is something that helps provoke some thought about how we can have clear and consistent policy whether you like sports or movies,” added Mitchell Reardon, another passerby.

The Rio is no stranger to adversity. A grass roots campaign in 2018 allowed the theatre’s owners to buy the building, likely saving the landmark from the wrecking ball.

Lea says the COVID-19 closures have the potential to be just as dire.

“Every day that we’re closed, it just threatens the Rio that much more,” she said. “We need to get open. We can’t sit closed for months.”

The new concept launches Saturday but Lea doesn’t want cinema buffs to worry.

She says the theatre will return to its silver screen roots just as soon as the province allows.