Dramatic comeback: ByTowne Cinema to reopen under new ownership

ByTowne Cinema
Ottawa's ByTowne Cinema announced Thursday it has found new owners. File photo

In news that’s sure to make local cinephiles break out the celebratory popcorn, the ByTowne Cinema will soon be back in business.

“Yes. There’s light in the darkness,” the cherished Ottawa institution said in a statement on Thursday morning.

“I’m happy ​– thrilled, actually ​– to announce that the ByTowne will reopen under new management when pandemic conditions permit.”

The statement said the new owners “plan to continue the tradition of the ByTowne and operate an indie cinema that will offer international films, documentaries and Canadian movies.”

The theatre gave no further details, saying it will “leave it to the new owners to tell you what they’ve got planned.”

Plummeting ticket sales

The cherished Ottawa institution closed its doors at the end of 2020 after more than three decades in operation, citing plummeting ticket sales during the pandemic and increased competition for movie distribution rights from online streaming services such as Netflix.

“The cinema has been losing money every day since the pandemic hit,” longtime former owner Bruce White wrote in an email to members. “Even when we've been allowed to be open, audiences are dramatically smaller.”

The theatre originally opened in 1947 as the Nelson cinema and later became part of the Famous Players chain before White and former business partner Jean Cloutier – now an Ottawa city councillor – took it over in 1988. Cloutier sold his stake in the cinema to White in 1990.

Movie theatres in Ottawa are currently shuttered as part of Ontario’s stay-at-home order. They’ll be allowed to resume operations under stage three of the province’s reopening plan.