The Roxy Classic Theatre, the single-screen movie house on Quadra Street, has received support from Victoria city council in its application to the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch that would permit the serving of alcohol during adult-only events.
Although liquor service in movie theatres in Britain and Europe is a long-established practice, it is a new direction in B.C. Theatres that feature live productions, such as the Belfry and the Langham Court, already offer this beverage option.
The owner of the Roxy has stated that the option of providing liquor service will help the theatre to survive. Is this truly a necessary option?
Having worked in repertory/art-house movie theatres, I have a particular interest in the survival of what used to be neighbourhood institutions.
I worked at the landmark, art-moderne Ridge Theatre in Vancouver at a time when a typical midweek evening could draw a sellout crowd of 800 patrons. Customers were drawn to the eclectic programming and enticed by the specialty products that were featured in the concession (including being the first movie theatre in the city to serve cappuccino).
Today, the Ridge complex stands slated for demolition. Condominiums will rise where once hundreds of folks regularly congregated to feed their love of the movies.
A few blocks away, on Broadway, the Hollywood Theatre, a longtime family-owned business, has become a church.
The Vancouver East Cinema on Commercial Drive, which I once managed, has been converted into condominiums.
Granville Street, once the vibrant and neon-lit heart of Vancouver, has recently seen the seven-screen Empire Theatres close. As a result, the renowned Vancouver International Film Festival is now struggling to secure its future.
Is there, and should there be, a future for the movie theatre? Success stories in other cities suggest that if movie theatres are to survive, the nature of their operation needs to change. How can theatre operators, faced with declining attendance and the requirement to upgrade to expensive dig-ital technology, continue to play a role in our community?
In Portland, Oregon, the Living Room Theater is not only a much-supported local institution but has also become a destination for movie lovers from around the world. The multi-screen theatre features indie and foreign films, a gourmet kitchen, outdoor patio and beer and wine bar. In addition to films, the facility is also available for live and private events. The business was created by filmmakers and submissions by independent filmmakers are welcomed.
In Portland's Hawthorn neighbourhood, The Bagdad Theater, a spectacular Spanish-revival survivor of Hollywood's Golden Age, continues to function as the heart of one of the city's most vibrant and community-driven neighbourhoods. Under the ownership of the entrepreneurial McMenamins, who have built an empire on rehabilitating heritage buildings, the complex now features food and beverage, book talks - in collaboration with the world-renowned Powell's City of Books - and private events.
Similar to the Roxy, the long-shuttered Rio Theatre in Vancouver has come back to life and taken advantage of the new liquor regulations.
Will liquor sales be the driving force behind the potential success of these theatres? Clearly not. A reimagining of the movie theatre is required. Of note, it has been identified that the profit margin for even first-run film theatres is based on concession sales rather than ticket sales, which speaks to the need for a more diverse menu of offerings.
Changes in technology and the rise of social media have resulted in the loss of many opportunities that encouraged person-to person social interaction and the sense of being part of a community.
With an infusion of innovation, passion and creativity, it has been demonstrated elsewhere that movie theatres can continue to play a role in our hearts, in our neighbourhoods and in the economic diversity of our ciyies.
Let us hope that Victoria does not become the exception.
Pamela Madoff is a City of Victoria councillor and vice-chairwoman of the Capital Regional District arts committee.
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