If the last time you walked through downtown was prior to last spring, it might have looked boring, gray and like something resembling a ghost town. Recently, however, downtown Eugene has gone through what you could call a cultural renaissance, adding restaurants and entertainment geared toward a younger crowd. These new businesses include a new Bijou Arts Cinema, called Bijou Metro.
On a Monday night, a large group of people enter one of the Bijou Metros’ intimate theaters, all holding local beers in their hands. The art cinema’s manager and two of its owners are cleaning theaters, selling tickets and serving food and drinks. This red-walled, dimly lit, cozy setting is exactly what draws people to a theater like the Bijou, located on Broadway.
According to an industry report by the Motion Picture Association of America, 160 million less movie tickets were sold in 2012 than 2003. Art-house theaters that show independent, classic and foreign films generally have a harder time staying in businesses than commercial theaters. Although the Bijou on 13th Avenue has been around for an impressive 33 years, the opening of the new location was actually not at all funded by the original Bijou’s success.
The support for the downtown location comes from federal funds for urban renewal. The Bijou Metro would not have been able to open if it weren’t for the city of Eugene providing a Downtown Revitalization Loan Program. This program gives loans to businesses based on the number of jobs they create. Despite the downtown location being farther away from most students than the 13th Avenue location, Bijou Metro is twice as successful with half as many seats. Pretty impressive considering it opened in June.
Many of Bijou Metro’s customers are students and the Bijou employees believe this is because of the nightlife downtown. Julie Blonshteyn, one of the owners of the Bijou, says it felt like there was a “new energy” downtown after the new restaurants and bars opened. This revitalization of downtown Eugene also includes apartment buildings geared toward students, like the 13th & Olive complex and the Titan Court apartments on 9th Avenue and Charnelton Street. More downtown restaurants, bars and entertainment may start to compete with the areas more closely surrounding campus. Joshua Purvis, the manager and PR specialist of the Bijou Metro, says that a revitalized downtown can be a “transition space as students are growing up and moving into cities.”
The beauty of a local art cinema is that it has a closer tie with the community. One of the owners of Bijou Metro books the films himself, as well as interacts with customers on a daily basis in order to know the audience and therefore have a more successful theater. With students in mind, Bijou Metro is putting on a late-night genre series featuring action, martial arts, horror and anime movies. You can purchase a punch-card pass, which gets you into all six movies for $25. Bijou Metro also has a student membership, which costs $75 per year and gives you $3 admission for films, $1 admission for the late-night series and discounts at surrounding downtown restaurants.