The iconic Plaza Theatre in Kensington has closed its doors, although the family who owns it is hoping to lease it to someone who will continue running it as movie theatre.
Financial pressures due to COVID-19 pandemic has led owner Mike Brar to take early retirement from operating the 92-year-old theatre, which began life in 1928 as a garage and became a movie house in 1935. Mike Brar has owned the business since 1977 and also owns the Princess Theatre in Edmonton.
“We had plans to keep it going at least three or four more years,” said Brar’s son TJ Brar, in an interview with Postmedia from his home in Edmonton.
“But COVID, unfortunately, put him into an early retirement. It left us no choice but to put it up for lease.”
The Plaza held screenings until Sunday, Aug. 23 and was shuttered on Monday. The marque now says “For Lease” and lists a number. The hope is that an arts group or other organization will lease the spot and keep it running.
“If we can keep its function and keep it running the way it was prior to us putting it up for lease, I don’t think we could be much more happier than that,” Brar said. “That is our main goal. I guess time will tell. We don’t really know what the future holds.”
Over the years, The Plaza Theatre gained a reputation for playing indie and cult films and for hosting various film festivals. In the 1990s, it became one of Calgary’s go-to cinemas for first-run arthouse fare. Over the years, it has hosted events for GIRAF, the annual animation festival; Fairy Tales; the Calgary Underground Film Festival and the Calgary Underground Film Festival. It has also hosted live performances. TJ Brar says the family will likely put the Princess Theatre in Edmonton up for lease as well.
“The Plaza Theatre is a very special place for me,” he says. “I grew up around that building. From a very young age, I remember going up to the projection room with my dad. I have a lot of fond memories of that building.”
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the past six months have been a rough go with expenses being paid out of pocket by the family.
Annie MacInnis, executive director of the Kensington Business Revitalization Zone, says the Plaza Theatre has been a landmark institution in Calgary for decades.
“We’d love to see another arts group take over the Plaza,” she said. “It’s a real historic venue in Calgary. It’s important to people in Kensington. There’s so few of these older theatre left. It seems a shame to have it go something that isn’t associated with the arts.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had a negative impact on Kensington-area businesses, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel, she said.
Since the pandemic took hold, 11 businesses in the area have closed but six have opened and four more will in the near future, MacInnis said.
“We are seeing green shoots in Kensington,” she said. “We’re 11 down, 10 up. Those are hopeful signs in the midst of a lot of heartache for small businesses. I’m just hopeful that someone who has been home with COVID and re-evaluating what’s important in life and feel that saving the Plaza Theatre is a worthwhile cause.”
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