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Vancouver's Rio Theatre reopens as sports bar, frustration with COVID-19 orders remains

Last Updated Jan 24, 2021 at 12:18 am PST


Owner Corrine Lea says inspectors told her to stop counter service at the last minute nearly derailing the reopening

The Rio is reopening as a sports bar to boost business, highlight what owner says is unfair treatment of arts sector

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The reopening of Vancouver’s Rio Theatre as a sports bar Saturday hit a last-minute snag, with a demand from health inspectors adding to the owner’s frustration with the way her business is being impacted by COVID-19 orders.

Under the current Provincial Health Order, set to expire on Feb.5, movie theatres have been ordered to close. Bars and restaurants, however, have remained open. Theatre-owner Corrine Lea got creative in an effort to both boost business and highlight what she describes as unfair treatment of the arts sector which has been shut down since November.

“This whole decision of keeping cinemas closed is wrong. It is not safer at a bar than a cinema,” she says.

“I know not every theatre has a liquor licence so it makes it more difficult but I think everybody, every business should get creative and find a way to get open. If it means losing their business, they should do everything they can to stay alive. Nobody wants to be breaking rules. We all want to comply, we want to keep everyone safe, but if you can find a safe way to pivot — do it.”

COVID-19 guidelines limit capacity to 50, and Lea says seats were sold out in 30 minutes.

Then the inspector called.

“This came out of nowhere. At the last minute they asked me to do something that is not safe, and something that’s very complicated that we can’t do in our business,” she says, adding she was being told to stop counter-service for food and drinks.

“When people come to order at the counter, there’s a glass barrier. You’re not engaging with my staff, you’re at a safe distance that keeps everyone safe. Then they bring their items, they sit in their seats, and they stay in their seats — that’s what’s happening here now. If we did what they’re asking, it would be much less safe because then our staff would be coming and going, people would be having to deliver things right to your face, no glass barrier.”

Both the timing of the call and the nature of the change being ordered added to Lea’s frustration at the way move theatres and arts organizations are being asked to take measures that bars and restaurants are not.

“All over the city people are doing counter service in coffee bars,” she says.


Lea will be providing counter service while she waits for an explanation for why she has been told not to, although she’s not ruling out the possibility she could be shut down.

“‘I’m really hoping that they’ll let me speak to somebody who has authority to make decisions,” she says.

“I won’t be any worse off than I was earlier this week when I was already shut down. At least we’ve got our point made, and at least the public has heard what is going on.”