‘We’re going to do the safe thing and be a sports bar’
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
This sudden change in entertainment is just for the time being to keep the venue’s doors open, since sports bars have not been ordered to close like arts venues have.
In recent days, the billboard accompanying Rio Theatre’s sign reads “Screw the arts we’re a sports bar now.” The announcement comes after a month of the independent cinema’s dormancy, following the BC COVID health order introduced in early December which forced closure to all arts venues, including movie theatres.
The cinema’s website—which previously sold film passes, now lists reservation seating “tickets.” Although not actual tickets, this cost-free reservation provides the cinema with an idea of how many people to expect, and simultaneously turn away. This new reservation system fulfills the new COVID health order for businesses operating at reduced capacity.
Sports have replaced the cult classics which used to be projected on the big screen. But no need to fret movie lovers! This sudden change in entertainment is just for the time being to keep the venue’s doors open, since sports bars have not been ordered to close like arts venues have. In an interview with CTV News, owner Corinne Lea expresses her annoyance: “It’s frustrating for us because it shouldn’t make a difference what’s on the screen. If you can watch sports, you should be able to watch movies.”
The sports bar stunt comes after a series of billboards addressed to BC’s top health physicians and their latest health orders. Pictures of the billboards can be archived on the theatre’s Twitter. Such read, “arts & culture closed while bars are still open fvck that noise,” “cinemas can operate safely just like bars & restaurants Dr B Henry can you hear us?” and “treat cinemas fairly bars & restaurants open why not theatres?”
Over the last two months, the theatre seems to have done what they can to try to reopen their doors. Mid-January, the Rio Theatre started a petition, also addressed to BC Health Officials in an attempt to allow cinemas to reopen. As of January 28, there are currently more than 8,000 signatures, but no plans to allow reopening.
The Rio Theatre obtains a liquor primary licence, which allows them to operate by selling alcohol. Cinemas who do not hold a liquor primary licence are unable to open their doors solely to sell alcohol and function as a bar. Although previously people had been drawn into the theatre to watch films and other performances, the cinema had to adopt another business strategy.
Another independent cinema holding this sort of licence, Hollywood Theatre, made a similar transition late last year. The venue was dormant for many years after opening in 1935. They reopened in 2020 only to be faced with the pandemic. While the theatre originally showed live music and film, they too had to make some quick adjustments that veered outside how they usually functioned. For the time being, they too are now servicing as a bar.
Immediately succeeding the Rio’s re-opening as a sports bar, a local publication proposed that the $375,000 arts grant which had been given to the theatre in 2018 was in jeopardy as they were no longer servicing as an arts venue. After receiving much backlash, the article was subsequently taken down, updated, and republished. The Rio’s Rachel Fox clarifies with the Daily Hive that they do not want to be a sports bar, they want to be a cinema. They are just doing what they can to stay afloat during these unprecedented times: “We are fighting for the survival of the arts. That’s why we’re doing this.”