Towne Cinema 8 is going to crash into ‘temporary closure’

The Towne Cinema 8 movie theater in downtown Winnipeg will close indefinitely next week.

Patrons and staff were told Thursday that the long-running theater would go dark on July 7 — raising concerns that the area was on the brink of losing its only multiplex.

However, a spokesperson for owner Landmark Cinemas of Canada emphasized that the Towne 8 would not close its doors for good.

“This is a temporary shutdown,” the spokesperson said in an email to the free press† “We were experiencing staffing issues at our (Landmark Cinemas 8) Grant Park location and had to reallocate resources to that location.”

The Towne 8 was the city’s first stand-alone multiplex, showing movies on eight big screens. When it opened in August 1981, Winnipeg had several downtown movie theaters, including the Metropolitan, Capitol, Walker, and Eaton Place Cinema 7 (a multiplex that also opened in 1981). Each of those theaters has since been closed for decades.

Over time, other downtown theaters, including the Globe and IMAX on Portage Place, opened and closed. The Towne 8 has operated for the most part uninterrupted, apart from surviving what was intended to be a permanent shutdown in 1995 when Cineplex Odeon did not renew its lease.

A few months later, Landmark Cinemas reopened the theater and has continued to operate for the past 27 years.

The downtown movie theater business, and the theater business in general, has faced significant challenges since the heyday of the multiplex that sparked the construction of the Towne 8 more than 40 years ago.

Attendance declined over time as suburban and mall multiplexes ate downtown ticket sales. All the while, attendance in theaters across the country was declining. In recent years, the industry has also seen the rise of streaming video options.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic led to months of cinema closures across Canada.

While the pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted, the staffing problems at the Grant Park site — the reasons Landmark didn’t elaborate — may illustrate ongoing staffing problems.

There are indications that Towne 8’s employees will either be temporarily laid off or relocated to the Grant Park site. While Landmark said the closure would be temporary, there were concerns among employees and customers Thursday about the lack of a published reopening date.

Its return is likely to be anticipated by local moviegoers who appreciate the discounted prices and overall atmosphere, both of which are reminiscent of another era, exemplified by the lower level central ticket kiosk and colorful 1980s carpet.

Unlike other local multiplexes, the Towne 8’s appearance has managed to avoid overt corporatization and hold its own through decades of turbulence and upheaval in the film industry.

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Ben Waldman

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