Towne Cinema 8 to go dark in ‘temporary closure’

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Downtown Winnipeg movie theatre Towne Cinema 8 will close next week for an indefinite intermission.

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Downtown Winnipeg movie theatre Towne Cinema 8 will close next week for an indefinite intermission.

Patrons and employees were informed Thursday the long-running theatre would go dark July 7 — triggering worries the area was about to lose its sole multiplex.  

A spokesperson for owner Landmark Cinemas of Canada insisted, however, the Towne 8 would not be closing its doors for good.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Towne 8 was the first standalone multiplex in the city, showing movies on its eight large screens.

“This is a temporary closure,” the spokesperson said in an email to the Free Press. “We are experiencing staffing challenges at our (Landmark Cinemas 8) Grant Park location and needed to reallocate resources to that location.”

The Towne 8 was the first standalone multiplex in the city, showing movies on its eight large screens. When it opened in August 1981, Winnipeg had several downtown cinemas, including the Metropolitan, Capitol, Walker and Eaton Place Cinema 7 (a multiplex which also opened in 1981). Each of those theatres have since been closed for decades.

In time, other downtown theatres, including the Globe and IMAX at Portage Place, opened and closed. The Towne 8 has operated mostly uninterrupted, aside from surviving what was intended to be a permanent closure in 1995, when Cineplex Odeon did not renew its lease.

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

The downtown movie theatre business, and the theatre business in general, has faced significant challenges since the multiplex heyday that spurred the Towne 8’s construction more than 40 years ago.

Attendance decreased over time as suburban and mall-based multiplexes ate into downtown ticket sales. All the while, attendance dwindled at theatres across the country. In recent years, the industry has also had to contend with the rise of streaming video options.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic led to months-long closures at movie houses across Canada.

While pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted, the staffing concerns at the Grant Park site — the reasons for which Landmark didn’t elaborate on — may illustrate lingering workforce issues.

Indications were Towne 8 employees will be either temporarily laid off or transferred to the Grant Park location. While Landmark said the closure would be temporary, there were concerns Thursday among employees and patrons about a lack of a publicized reopening date.

Its return will likely be anticipated by local moviegoers who appreciate its discount prices and overall vibe, which both feel of another era, exemplified by the central ticket kiosk on the lower level and the colourful 1980s carpet.

Unlike other local multiplexes, the Towne 8’s appearance has managed to avoid overt corporatization, remaining itself throughout decades of movie industry turbulence and upheaval.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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