There was a time in Ontario when a local movie theatre anchored the heart of every village. Even in a city the size of Toronto, our own village in Bloor West boasted a pair of cinemas.
Though not exactly bijous the venerable Runnymede Theatre on the east side, and the faux art deco Humber Odeon near Jane and Bloor streets, added enviable character to Bloor West Village. For decades they featured first-run movies only a short walking distance from thousands of film buffs living in nearby neighbourhoods.
For decades both theatres thrived. And then they didn’t.
Lured away by those ubiquitous big box multiplex cinemas featuring all the warmth and charm of a subway station — and stay-at-home videos and DVDs — the “market” abandoned the Runnymede and Humber cinemas. In the case of the former, Chapters opened a bookstore that, to its credit, faithfully restored much of the original interior and exterior detail of the former theatre.
In the case of the Humber, the new property owner gutted the interior of its seats, removed candy counters and boarded up its windows and doors, creating an unsightly abrasion that has sat empty for the better part of the past decade.
Hearty kudos, then, to Rui Pereira, the brave entrepreneur who has taken over ownership of the Humber Odeon. With new seating and a refurbished foyer and concession counter, the new and improved Humber cinema re-opened (upper cinema only for the time being) in late April to widespread and approving media coverage across the GTA.
Ask any 10 local residents strolling Bloor West Village how they feel about the re-opening of a movie theatre in their neighbourhood and chances are nine of them will applaud the move. Ask the same 10 if they plan to patronize the local big screen regularly, more than half would probably reply in the affirmative.
Sadly, the evidence points to the contrary. On a recent Tuesday evening less than a dozen bodies could be sighted amidst a sea of 300 seats.
A dozen ticket-buyers on a weekday night won’t pay the heating in winter nor for air conditioning in summer, to say nothing of salaries and other overhead costs like advertising.
Sorry, folks, this just won’t do. We can’t have it both ways: our own local cinema playing to a near-empty house.
Movie-goers aren’t about to travel from Scarborough, North York or Mississauga to the Humber Odeon just to catch a flick. They’ve got plenty of their own multiplexes to choose from, sitting atop acres of asphalt and free parking.
We’ve got the real deal: a restored cinema in the heart of an attractive neighbourhood community.
We’ve got what so many others say they wish they had.
But the new Humber Odeon cinema will go the way of the old Humber Odeon unless local residents are prepared to support it on a regular basis, even if that means occasionally plugging your nose at some of the films offered up — the Furious Five being Exhibit A in this category as the designated film that marked the re-opening of the theatre. (That it was the only film available for the first three weeks probably didn’t help attendance, either).
Even so, Rui Pereira has done his part. Now it’s up to the rest of us to ensure the Humber Odeon stays open.
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