Small theatres change business models to survive pandemic
VANCOUVER -- On Saturday, the Rio Theatre opened its doors for the first time as a sports bar.
Household groups, dressed in hockey gear, were spaced out in the theatre to watch the Canucks game.
Earlier in the week, owner Corinne Lea announced the venue would be using its existing liquor license to become a sports bar. Under the current provincial rules, bars and restaurants can be open, but movie theatres cannot.
“We’re just doing what we can to stay alive,” Lea said Saturday. “This whole decision of keeping cinemas closed is wrong.”
Other small theatres across Vancouver have also had to change their business to stay afloat. The Dunbar Theatre has never closed because of the pandemic. It moved straight to private screenings and offering up food and drink through food delivery apps.
“We’re doing a lot of popcorn, a lot of donuts, a lot of refreshments, Uber eats,” said Ken Charko, president of the Dunbar Theatre.
He says household groups book out the theatre for screenings and other events; recently there was a piano recital with three people. Charko agrees with Lea that theatres should not be ordered to close.
“We are not social gathering events, we’re not a rave in the night, we’re not a Car-Free Day or anything like that, we’re a private group going into a theatre not talking,” he said.
The Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway is offering cocktails, snacks and a Happy Hour. The website also tells customers to “stay tuned” for special event announcements.
The need for theatres to change up business is a concern for Mel Lehan, a Kitsilano resident who is part of the Save the Hollywood Coalition, a local group who helped save The Hollywood from demolition back in 2018.
He hopes venues will still come back as theatres, when they’re able to.
“It is a community space,” he said. “We still need the Dunbar. We need the Rio. We still need the Hollywood, and our group and other groups around the city are going to make sure that happens.”