Could Those Coffers Be Filled With Wine? by Chris Burt

Papermill Theatre is a lovely place to watch a play – for a government building. The arts were used to scraping for survival long before service-downloading forced even the most ‘fiscally responsible’ municipality to join them in the charity line. The two perpetually skint interests come together at Todmorden Mills, where several cultural areas have a home in the Don Valley. The facility is fine, and the groups who use the theatre hold the promise of indefinite survival. However, when the gravy hunters gather, the modest successes of valuable community institutions may not be enough. If that sounds too fearful, then consider it the other way: surely Todmorden and its tenant groups could use a little more cash.

The venue has no liquor license. What seems easily explainable in the moment by attribution to the public dime and sensibility makes less sense with the perspective of distance. Someone at the city thought, or perhaps thinks, that city venues do not need liquor licenses. However; every successful theatre venue in the city is licensed. There are no exceptions, and there never were.

So how much money could the venue be making? Between the East Side Players and Amicus Productions shows scheduled for the next year, there are 60 shows at which alcohol will not be served. The theatre seats 164 people, and a recent ESP performance was played to roughly 80% capacity. If we suppose that that is a typical crowd, and that 10% of those attending will purchase an alcoholic beverage at a $2.50 mark-up, then Todmorden stands to make $1968 per year. The actual amount would be higher, however, as Papermill Theatre is sometimes rented by other groups to put on plays.

“But what about the cost of having the license?” one might ask. The thing is that since ESP have been paying for 3 ‘Special Occasion Licenses’ each year for their opening nights, there has already been $225 each year spent on licensing. By charging a premium on rent to all or some groups, the City could easily recoup most or all of the license fee, which averaged over 11 years would be $254.54, including the initial processing fee. In other words, one tenant group is already paying almost the entire cost (over time) of a permanent license. Site administrator Ulana Baluk points out that it is a City of Toronto policy not to hold a liquor license there or at similar sites like the Assembly Hall. This means any change must come through council.

The reason that other theatres offer alcoholic refreshments is to provide for their patrons a luxury which also increases revenue. Maintaining cultural institutions and facilities is surely challenging in and of itself. Passing up on revenue only exacerbates the difficulty of meeting those challenges, while inviting challenge from the fiscal philistines. In this case, they do not do it that way in the private sector because their motivations are different. They do it that way because it is better. 


Chris Burt is a freelance writer who writes about sports at, Toronto parenting at and whatever. You can follow him on Twitter: @AFakeChrisBurt.

Photo via 49st


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