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Bijou Theatre Plans To Shut Doors–”We Are All Devastated”

July 30th, 2016 · 39 Comments · Development and Zoning, News and Events

Bijou lights

Bijou Theatre

Bridgeport’s Downtown gem, the Bijou Theatre, a key component of a mixed-use redevelopment on Fairfield Avenue, will close its doors in a week, according to Christine Brown, who managed operations there for five years. A disappointed Brown says try as she may, rental and utility costs could not make the entertainment venue sustainable.

Bijou interior

Interior of Bijou.

“All of us at the Bijou have given our heart and soul to this project and we are all devastated,” says Brown. “We love Bridgeport and we love the Bijou. We have had the unique privilege of showcasing extraordinary talent on our stage, and sharing this historic and beautiful venue with tens of thousands of people. Our sincere thanks and respect goes out to everyone who has supported the Bijou in any way.”

The Bijou has been the scene of live music, comedy, films, community events, concerts, fundraisers and theatrical productions for five years. Developer Phil Kuchma cleaned up a couple of city blocks on both sides of Fairfield Avenue in his Bijou Square redevelopment. Included was the renovation of one of the oldest movie halls in the country into a cool 200-seat venue with a full bar and food options. Brown says she could not come to terms with landlord Kuchma on keeping the place alive. Brown, an attorney who works at Fairfield University, found herself supplementing the continuation of the venue with her personal finances.

Two Boots restaurant, an inaugural eatery of the development, shut its doors in March. A restaurant replacement is expected to open its doors within a few weeks. Can Tiin, featuring Vietnamese-French plates and Italian restaurant Trattoria ‘A Vuchella are two existing restaurants on both sides of the Fairfield Avenue development. Kuchma also owns the building housing the popular Downtown Cabaret Theatre, a block away at the top of the Broad Street steps.

While Kuchma has had success filling the trendy housing units of the development, it has been a challenge keeping alive the restaurant and entertainment destinations. He says although disappointed he will search for an operator for the venue with a similar use.

“Bridgeport is still proving itself to a lot of people,” says Kuchma. “There’s successes, Downtown Cabaret celebrating 40 years, but also some casualties. It’s not always their fault. It’s a shame. Life goes on. When we lose a tenant we’ve been fortunate being able to find a replacement. There will be no change in use. We’ll never let it stop being a movie house.”

Brown says she did not have the local and state funding sources that can keep alive traditional non-profit entertainment destinations. Brown says the Bijou will close on August 7 following the final showing of the musical Bring It On.

Statement from Bijou Board of Directors:

“The management and Board of Directors of The Bijou Theatre have made the difficult decision to close the doors. We are all proud of what we have accomplished since opening 5 years ago. But while The Bijou has grown artistically over the years, expenses are prohibitive and the funding streams have not been sufficient to support the theatre’s continued operation.”


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39 Comments so far ↓

  • Jeff Kohut

    Very sad news, but not surprising.

  • Frank Gyure

    THIS IS REALLY BAD NEWS. A sign of more such things to come.

  • DC Faber

    Another sign of a failing Mayor and city council. One step forward, three steps back.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal will be at the Bijou Theatre Thursday night to introduce a screening of the film Trapped, a documentary directed by Dawn Porter that examines abortion rights in America.
    Does anyone think subject matter like this could keep people from supporting the Bijou night after night?

    • Frank Gyure

      Mr. Fardy, I hear what you are saying, but the Bijou Theatre was NEVER meant to play Superman or Star Trek movies. It was meant to appeal to a higher-end cultural demographic. This was “supposed” to be part of a new and DIFFERENT Downtown Bridgeport. Anyone who wants to go see Superman and Star Trek can go to the multiplexes. The new Downtown Bridgeport just took a body blow.

      • Andrew C Fardy

        Well, when you are running subjects that only interest a select audience and you have no grants or help from a sponsor then you are in trouble before you open. I don’t know anyone who watches the movies you mentioned.

        • Frank Gyure

          This was a small theater that was meant to appeal to the urban millennial. This is a huge body blow to the “new” Downtown Bridgeport.

  • flubadub

    Went to a blues show several weeks ago. Guess I should have gone more often.

  • Jeff Kohut

    I believe the Bijou could become a lucrative business entity and magnet destination for Bridgeport. But this is not going to occur through the creation of a downtown “neighborhood” around the theater (I am certainly not against the creation of a downtown neighborhood, as long as it doesn’t exert a crowding-out effect on downtown business development). An entertainment venue such as the Bijou needs to be able to draw from a large, diverse populace/geographic area.

    In order for an entertainment venue such as the Bijou to prosper, it has to resonate with regional entertainment needs such that it complements what is already out there even as it presents original/novel offerings and CREATES original/unique regional entertainment “needs.”

    Furthermore, there must be honesty in courting potential clientele for such a BRIDGEPORT venue, in that there are still negative perceptions of Bridgeport as a dangerous and depressing place (with that perception existing to a significant extent even among Bridgeporters).

    If a Bridgeport venue such as the Bijou is to gain a business foothold and prosper in the face of regional competition, the corridors that connect its location to transportation access must be made attractive and safe. Indeed, going as far as providing safe to-from transportation for patrons should be an accommodation. There should be shuttles from the Bijou to the train station and secure parking lots, for starters, with bus and train fare packages offered as package deals in conjunction with the entertainment/educational offerings in the Bijou program.

    Perhaps more space is part of the answer to the Bijou’s success. A venue in which cinema, live entertainment and educational offerings are staged should probably not be sharing space with businesses unrelated to those offerings. There should probably be unique food and retail offerings that present synergistic opportunities housed in the same space as the Bijou (that is to say, at least directly, and safely/comfortably connected to a central staging venue).

    The recent management of the Bijou made a fine, valiant effort to promote and sustain the Bijou, but they were probably a little too positive and optimistic about Bridgeport. To succeed in the present reality of Bridgeport, it must be realized that reality must be addressed with counter-measures that compensate for the twin “drags” of negative perceptions/fear about the city/downtown, as well as the very real lack of “luster” in regard to the downtown reality.

    The Cabaret survives despite its Bridgeport location because of the business/entertainment momentum it brought with it. The Bijou could (as just one tactic in a new business strategy) resonate with the Cabaret momentum by holding “joint entertainment-adventure packages” in which patrons could be offered sequential entertainment/dining presentations in which an afternoon/evening could start at one venue, with a dining intercession, and conclude at the other, with safe transportation provided (door-to-door) as part of the package. Just thoughts.

    But if downtown Bridgeport is to regain access to regional/local patronage there will have to be out-of-the-box thinking/aggressive promotional measures employed. (I should add I submitted a similar business plan to “Shark Tank” involving the same general concepts in 2012, and was offered a chance to appear and present on that show. Unfortunately, family health/travel necessities prevented me from accommodating the dates offered for the appearance.)

    Furthermore: Bridgeport has strengths that could be exploited via our entertainment venues. Our diversity offers great opportunities to present unique cultural offerings (such as relevant foreign films, music, theater) that provide educational opportunities for the native-born and cultural connections for immigrants. (Why not a Vietnamese dining/cinema package for the culturally-curious of the region who might enjoy educational/cultural contact with our Vietnamese community, for example. Indeed, we could do the same with respect to our Brazilian, Portuguese, Cape Verdean, et al., cultural representation. This could be done as part of the business strategy of the Bijou in conjunction with other Bridgeport, appropriate Bridgeport businesses).

    In any event. It is sad the efforts to sustain and promote the Bijou have run into difficulty; but this shouldn’t be viewed as a defeat, just a lesson and new opportunity.

    Perhaps the present Bijou management will be thrown a lifeline and given a second chance to employ a new Bijou business strategy.

  • Steven Auerbach

    There was one component that was the ticket for the Bijou. I told this to the original owners of Two Boots who were originally going to take over. The Bijou Theater was the perfect venue for first-run foreign films. Granted, the majority of Bridgeporters do not patronize these venues unless there is a free program. Norwalk theaters are always full with excellent foreign films. That was the only ticket. How many people do you need to share this information with? I do not know what Kuchma gets for rent, but I do know he is not an absentee landlord and he patronizes every one of the establishments there. As for Mayor Ganim, this has absolutely nothing to do with him or his administration. Though many of his appointments do not have the culture to appreciate theater, it is not up to his appointments to patronize downtown especially if they do not live there. I would suggest they explore foreign films. The theaters in Norwalk do not even compare to the Bijou. I will continue to go to New Haven and Norwalk for these films because Bridgeport does not cater to the people who enjoy them and enjoy fine dining.


  • Dave Walker

    How is Ganim going to try to spin this? If you can’t keep businesses that are here you are not likely to grow your tax base. Where is the City’s 5-10 year plan? It doesn’t exist!

    • Grin Ripper

      You can’t Pin the Tail on Ganim for this closing. How was Two Boots allowed to never pay any personal business property taxes under the Finch Administration?

      • Dave Walker

        Failure in Bridgeport spans many Mayoral Administrations, including Finch’s and Ganim’s.

        • Ron Mackey

          Dave, no, it goes much further back where mayors of both parties refused to do anything about Pension Plan A, it was never changed where police and firefighters paid 8% of their weekly pay into the City of Bridgeport general funds. Here are those past mayors:

          Hugh C. Curran, Democratic
          Nicholas A. Panuzio, Republican
          William Seres, Republican
          John C. Mandanici, Democratic
          Leonard S. “Lenny” Paoletta, Republican
          Thomas W. Bucci, Democratic
          Mary C. Moran, Republican
          Joseph P. “Joe” Ganim, Democratic
          John M. Fabrizi, Democratic

  • canobeano

    The Bijou is a wonderful venue that was operated by some very wonderful women. IMHO, it was simply ahead of Bridgeport’s time. The DSSD has done a tremendous job of keeping the streets clean and beautifying public spaces, but there still isn’t enough activity Downtown, especially after 5pm, to make it feel like a fun, vibrant and safe place.

    The Bijou accomplished what so few others have: attracted folks to Bridgeport who otherwise had zero reason to be here. While those of us who live and work in Bridgeport have tuned out a lot of the noise, we tend to forget outsiders don’t have these skills and if we drop our blinders for a minute, we should be able to admit we’ve got a long way to go before our house is in order. I know most of you will laugh when you read this, but the thing that shocked me most when I first moved here six-ish years ago was the way Bridgeport police do and don’t do their job. Watching them constantly break the law and fail to uphold it is unnerving, and is reason #1 why I do not feel safe around here.

  • Dave Walker

    Connecticut has some of the highest utility rates in the nation. It is a major competitiveness problem. You cannot attract and retain businesses that use a lot of energy, especially manufacturing, with such high energy costs. The regulators in Hartford are doing a terrible job controlling the related costs.

  • Harvey Weintraub

    The demise of the Bijou is as simple as this, people still don’t feel safe going down there at night. Therefore, no businesses such as that will survive. I mean, I wouldn’t feel safe having my wife and her girlfriends go down there to see a show then have to walk to their car, it’s just the stigma downtown Bpt has.

  • Lisa Parziale

    Harvey, I feel the same as you, the parking is a big reason why a lot of us don’t go downtown. When leaving a venue, it’s dark and just the thought of walking a block or so to reach your vehicle is daunting.

  • Marshall Marcus

    I’ll admit to never having been to the Bijou. To be perfectly honest I didn’t know it existed. It apparently didn’t do that good a job reaching potential patrons in greater Bridgeport. We go to the Downtown Cabaret and the Fairfield Theatre Company as well as Long Wharf, Yale Rep and Shubert in New Haven. Somehow this really didn’t show up as a place of interest.
    The parking and being in that neighborhood at night are not deterrents to me.
    Downtown business and cultural venues are not going to thrive just with Bridgeport residents as patrons. They must properly market to adjoining and nearby towns to draw attendees.

    • Bob Walsh

      There is an ad right here on Lennie’s website. I guess you are also knocking advertising on OIB with that comment.

      • Marshall Marcus

        I generally don’t pay attention to the advertisements on this blog. However, 99-plus% of residents of neighboring and adjoining towns don’t read a blog called “Only in Bridgeport” so advertising here won’t reach all those thousands of people in the greater Bridgeport area.

        I’m not knocking the advertisements on this blogsite, I know a D22 candidate has the top right-hand position and an atty advertises on the top left side. I read the blog/article titles and click on what interests me. I don’t generally read the ads.

  • Harvey Weintraub

    I wish downtown Bpt could be what it’s like when there is an event at the arena. Beforehand, the immediate area is bustling with people walking to either Ralph&Richies or venturing up to the public house or Tiago’s. You feel somewhat safe when there are lots of people walking around. But other than those very few nights, downtown is a scary place to be at night, there’s no denying it.

  • Bob Walsh

    Lots of blame to go around on this one.
    If the Ganim Admin didn’t know they were having problems then that just shows the disconnect between them and the rest of the city.
    If they did know then either they didn’t care or their priorities are elsewhere; re-entry programs, summer jobs, lighthouse program.
    How many people notice the ad on this site? If you did, quick who sponsored the show Bring It On? Give up? No one. No downtown businesses, law firms, etc. Were they asked and said no or weren’t they even asked? And don’t take the DSSD off the hook because the streets are clean.
    But everyone will be to blame if we don’t learn any lessons from this.

  • Jeff Kohut

    David Walker: You say
    “Connecticut has some of the highest utility rates in the nation. It is a major competitiveness problem. You cannot attract and retain businesses that use a lot of energy, especially manufacturing, with such high energy costs. The regulators in Hartford are doing a terrible job controlling the related costs.”

    How right you are! Carpenter Steel shut its doors because it couldn’t afford to run its electric arc furnace at its Bridgeport facility.

    The relationship between the State of Connecticut and its public utilities is perhaps the most corrupt, incestuous aspect of Connecticut government. The members of the “non-partisan” utility control board (PURA) appointed by the Governor, are usually either family members of utility company executives or former/retired utility company executives themselves. One of the routes to Connecticut utility company advancement is service on the (formerly) utilities control board (PURA). This governor folded the Department of Public utility Control (DPUC) into the huge, multi-division DEEP as an “efficiency” measure, now the exchange of PURA and corporate executives and their families is even more widespread and murkier, as is the situation with the insurance commission and insurance companies.

    Yes. They don’t call us Corrupticut just because of the free hot tubs.

    But back to the effect of outrageous electricity costs on businesses and households: I participated with a New Haven-based group called “Fight the Hike” in a fight against a proposed 50% rate hike by UI several years ago. To his credit, then AG Richard Blumenthal successfully led the fight against the hike and prevented the DPUC Commission from granting that hike. AG Jepsen is fairly useless in any role as a consumer protector.

    But Bridgeport should be leveraging their position as regional power generation/power supply host to our economic advantage. City Hall should undertake a study on the deleterious effects to the overall Bridgeport tax base and environment and seek to levy surcharges against power plant owner-operators to recoup lost revenue from tax base devaluation and foregone tax base expansion. (Who wants to locate next to obtrusive, dangerous, dirty power plants?)

    At the same time, City Hall should be negotiating a special, steeply reduced rate for Bridgeport’s electric utility ratepayers, especially for manufacturers and other commercial ratepayers.

    I suggested these measures to the present city administration as well as the previous two administrations.

    But, as Forrest Gump’s mother would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Modern Bridgeport seems to be in “stupid” mode, and just refuses to creatively inventory/recognize and utilize its assets.

    We should either show the utility companies the door and replace them with high-value tax base compatible with high-value (high tax value/jobs-intensive) redevelopment, or make their presence otherwise work for us. Carpenter Steel should have never had to leave Bridgeport because of electricity costs, not with three huge, regional power plants operating directly across the harbor inlet from them(!).

    Yes, Mr. Walker. You are right on target with this observation about Connecticut.

    • Dave Walker

      Very thoughtful and thorough post. I’m originally from Alabama and can relate to your Forrest Gump film quote.

    • BOE SPY

      Carpenter steel had a private coal-fueled power plant on Steel Point that came down on March 17, 1996. That plant served a dozen or so factories in the area. They did not pay the same rates as other UI costumers. Also, the rates when CS was around were not the same as they are today. I doubt the cost of electricity was a driving reason for the plant closure.
      Carpenter had made two significant acquisitions during the 1980s–Eagle Precision Metals Corporation of Fryeburg, Maine, and AMAX Specialty Metals Corporation of Orangeburg, South Carolina–and had sold the Bridgeport, Connecticut steel-making facility after the market growth rate had slowed.

    • BOE SPY

      Jeff, you are talking in circles again. Charge the power plant a higher tax rate for devaluing BPT. Get a cheaper electric rate for BPT because BPT hosts the power plant. Then throw the power plant out of town and invite Willy Wonka to build a mystery factory in its place.
      Is the power plant a leverageable position as regional power generation/power supply? Or is it a plant that makes BPT the service station to the gold coast. I guess it depends on what day I ask you.

  • Zena Lu

    Any way it’s analyzed, this is just crap news. The Bijou is a gem that lends culture, promise and beauty to the downtown Cityscape on a main artery of Bridgeport’s downtown scene. I am very discouraged by this latest business failure and find myself hoping against hope this is not a portent of more to come. Depressing.

  • The Bridgeport Kid

    Can’t blame the mayor or the City Council for this one. It is the greed and avarice of the landlords.

  • Mojo


  • Andrew C Fardy

    Jeff, just so you know, Carpenter Steel generated much of their own power. The reason they moved back to their home factory in Reading PA was they were locked in a contract battle with the union. The company decided they had enough of the union and moved operations to their non-union plant in Reading. BTW the Reading plant was quite a bit larger than the Bridgeport plant.

  • Jeff Kohut

    I have spoken with several retired employees of Carpenter Steel, include Senator Ed Gomes, who all cited the electric-arc furnace expense as the deciding factor to leave Bridgeport. (Apparently, their internal electrical generation capacity was inadequate to meet arc-furnace demands, and they needed to rely more heavily on outside power supply.)

    If one peruses the articles of the following links, the company seems to want to talk around the expense of doing business in Bridgeport and instead chooses to speak in terms of having excess capacity available elsewhere.

    I contend it was Bridgeport electricity costs and rising taxes that drove them out of Bridgeport. Read the articles at the links and talk to former employees and form your own conclusions.

    www .company-histories.com/Carpenter-Technology-Corporation-Company-History.html


    • Andrew C Fardy

      Jeff, just before they closed up shop, the Carpenter company was in contract negotiations with the union. The negotiations were not friendly. They got rid of their labor problems and went to their nonunion plant in Reading. Jeff, just an aside. I worked at Carpenter Steel from ’64-’67. My first summer there I helped clean the electrical generating equipment. It was a big job.

    • BOE SPY

      Neither article says anything of the sort.

      Company officials said the move was made because of declining demand for the company’s products, increased competition from abroad and a need to use Carpenter’s more modern and efficient facilities in Reading.

      The modernization program proved to be a two-edged sword, however. While it helped Carpenter become one of the most efficient steel producers in the industry, it also increased the company’s production capacity by about 50 percent at a time of declining demand. Hence, the company began to consider closing its Bridgeport plant, a possibility that had long been suggested by industry analysts.

      Those are the comments with regards to the BPT plant.

  • Hector A. Diaz


  • Jeff Kohut

    Some anonymous suburbanites, especially those with limited reading comprehension abilities, present too many obstacles to didactic efforts and productive dialogue to merit direct response. Not to be rude or dismissive, but one simply can’t keep investing time, effort and aggravation in such non-productive pursuits. (Could it be such limited persons have responsible positions with companies such as UI? I believe it is, indeed, possible, especially in light of how well-prepared UI was for the first string of storms for this decade. Possibly, such persons are now retired or serving in positions of non-crucial import.)

    • BOE SPY

      Yes, you are far too busy making it up as you go along. Look captain reading rainbow, both articles, from two different sources cite the same reason for CS leaving BPT. Yet we have to read through the article to see it was the electric bill that drove CS away. You are inferring the electric bill in 1987 was comparable to those of today. You would have to know what it cost CS in BPT CT in 1987 compared to Reading PA at that time. Then you would want to know how long it would take that savings to amortize the cost of closing the BPT plant and/or moving all the stuff you wanted to take with you.

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