The longstanding Capitol 6 cinema will likely fade to black in the wake of the Empire Company selling off its theatres, while finding no buyer for the Victoria landmark.
For the moviegoing public of Victoria, a city which has largely avoided the closure of older multiplex style of theatres, the news is hard to take, even if expected.
“It’s one that I went to as a kid. … I went with my late, great dad to double-bills there in the ’80s and ’90s,” said local freelance film writer Jason Whyte. “(It’s not) as busy as it used to be. … We all saw it coming. I’m surprised it lasted this long, but I mean, it’s sad.”
Empire Company, based out of Nova Scotia, has sold 26 theatres in Eastern Canada and Ontario to Cineplex Inc. and a further 20 theatres in Ontario and Western Canada to Landmark Cinemas, including the Empire Theatres four-plex at the University Heights Shopping Centre in Saanich.
Andrew Walker, vice president of communications and corporate affairs for Empire, confirmed that University Heights will be sold to Landmark, and Empires Theatre Victoria (the current name of the Capitol 6) will be put up for sale, though he could not say exactly when theatre operations would end.
“That’s one of the theatres we expect to realize some real estate value from over time,” Walker said. “Eventually it’d be sold.”
In a press release, Empire Company said it’s selling off its theatres to focus on its wholly-owned Sobeys Inc. chain of stores and a real estate investment trust.
Walker would not speak to the financial status of the Victoria cinemas.
The Capitol 6, opened in 1981, is one of two cinemas in Canada not included in the deal with Landmark or Cineplex. The other is in New Glasgow, N.S. Unless another company buys the Capitol for a movie theatre, it likely means closure for iconic building.
“(Capitol 6) was sort of the fist multiplex, the one that started it all in Victoria. So the theatre has a lot of history,” Whyte said. “It still has the biggest movie theatre in all of Greater Victoria, the big Theatre 2 holds about 500 seats.”
In recent years the out-of-fashion multiplex style of cinemas have been rapidly closing in the wake of the larger megaplexes, which have more screens and amenities. Until now, Victoria has been an exception to the rule.
In Vancouver many cinemas have closed, including the mainstay Granville 7, which screened its last film this past November.
The last theatre to close completely in Victoria was the Haida Theatre on Yates Street, which Whyte said shut downin 1992. The Vic Theatre closed as a regular cinema in 2008 but is now an important venue for the Film Festival and other screenings.
The Capitol 6 has also been a primary venue for the Victoria Film Festival, which will have to adapt if the closure goes through. The building is also home to the festival’s office, which could also be affected.
“If it closes, it is two of our venues, so it means we’ll have to be looking out,” said festival director Kathy Kay, who remains optimistic about the future. “Anytime there’s a change, then you have to respond. I often find if you hold on too tightly then you don’t allow for something new to happen.”
As he did with the Granville 7 in Vancouver, Whyte plans to be the last person to leave the Capitol 6 when it closes.
“I will be there on the last day, I’ll be the last person to leave the Capitol,” Whyte said.
Management at Empires Theatre Victoria could not be reached for comment.