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Princess Theatre on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue announces temporary closure

Click to play video 'Princess Theatre closes, goes up for lease on Whyte Avenue' Princess Theatre closes, goes up for lease on Whyte Avenue
It's been a fixture in Edmonton since 1915, but now Old Strathcona's Princess Theatre has closed its doors and is up for lease. Sarah Ryan looks at why.

A century-old art-house cinema and longtime fixture on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue has closed its doors and it is not yet clear when it will reopen.

On Wednesday, the Princess Theatre posted a statement on Facebook that said it was temporarily closing “for the next while under current circumstances.”

“We hope to reopen at some point, and will keep you updated as circumstances develop,” the post reads. “Thank you for the support over these last four months.

“Due to current conditions in the film industry, it is unfeasible for the Princess to keep operating as we have for the past four months.”

READ MORE: Whyte Avenue businesses contemplate relaunch: ‘We’re going to need more space’

On its website, the venue says the theatre is available for a long-term lease.

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TJ Brar, the son of the owner of the Princess Theatre, said on Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the venue to close.

It had shut down for several months when the public health crisis began, and when it reopened, the theatre made a number of adjustments to follow public health guidelines. But Brar said many of its moviegoers did not return.

“It wasn’t exactly viable to keep the theatre running,” Brar said. “A lot of the expenses were coming out of pocket.

“It is quite challenging. It is quite stressful. It is quite an emotional time for our family as well but unfortunately, it leaves us no choice but to put the theatres up for lease.”

The closure also leaves the theatre’s eight staff members with uncertainty going forward.

The executive director of Edmonton Fringe Theatre, which uses the venue during the city’s popular Edmonton Fringe Festival, said it’s heartbreaking to see local arts organizations and venues so drastically impacted by the pandemic.

“It’s an exceptionally precarious time for our industry, and it will require significant community support for the arts to bounce back,” Adam Mitchell said in a statement.

“Things will continue to shift as we plan for the 2021 Fringe Festival – it’s very difficult to say, exactly, what impact losing a venue like the Princess might have on the future of the festival at this time

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According to the City of Edmonton’s website, the theatre was built by J.W. McKernan and construction work began in 1914.

In 1958, the theatre closed as it faced a number of challenges, including competing with television for customers’ attention. After changing hands in 1970 it reopened once again.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta movie theatres, entertainment attractions not ready for June 12 reopening 

Movie theatres in Alberta had to close once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March but were given the green light to reopen in June if they adhered to public health guidelines, including limits on capacity.

Watch below: Some recent videos about movie theatres in Alberta.

Another iconic Edmonton theatre, Metro Cinema in the Garneau Theatre, was closed for 116 days at the start of the pandemic: March 16 to July 10.

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Executive director Dan Smith said there’s been challenges for Metro too.

“It took a bit of time for people to be comfortable coming back into indoor spaces.

“We installed plexiglass… We have a modified seating plan that allows for seating groups for cohorts that are all socially distanced from all other groups. Our capacity is limited to 20 per cent of our original capacity.”

Metro Cinema also has touchless payment systems, mandatory masks and lots of hand sanitizer. It’s also showing movies online.

“We have virtual screening options on our website — people can pay a small fee and 50 per cent went to us and 50 per cent went to the distributor. That money went to supporting filmmakers. Everybody in the whole film exhibition chain was getting a piece of the pot,” Smith explained.

He was sad to hear about Princess Theatre.

“It’s really sad news, to be honest. It’s a really sad day for cinema in Edmonton. It’s a beautiful theatre.

“We’re kind of grappling with the same or similar challenges as the Princess… On our best night, we can expect 20 per cent of our original capacity and that’s a difficult thing for any business.”

The building that houses the Princess Theatre received a number of historical designations in the 1980s.

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Brar said his family hopes that someone will take over the lease and “keep the theatre the way it is.”

“But this is certainly not the end for the theatre,” he said.

–With files from Global News’ Sarah Ryan, Caley Ramsay and Emily Mertz

View photos of the Princess Theatre below.

A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton.
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton. Eric Beck/ Global News
A photo of the Princess Theatre in Edmonton.
A photo of the Princess Theatre in Edmonton. Eric Beck/ Global News
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton.
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton. Eric Beck/ Global News
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton.
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton. Eric Beck/ Global News
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton.
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton. Eric Beck/ Global News
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton.
A photo taken inside the Princess Theatre in Edmonton. Eric Beck/ Global News