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Chicago's Bijou Theater to close Sept. 30
by Matt Simonette

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Bijou Theater, 1349 N. Wells St., will close Sept. 30.

According to a recorded message left by owner Steve Toushin at the theater's phone number, Bijou lost its lease at its longtime Old Town location. Its last full 24-hour day of operation will be Sept. 29; the doors close for good at 9 a.m. the following day.

"The end of days has come to Bijou after 46 years," Toushin said in the message. "...[Times] change. Neighborhoods change. Ownership changes of buildings and leases change."

Bijou cannot move because its license is tied to the location, he added. "It's not the way I wanted to go out," he said. "I wanted to have a bit more time if I was going to close down after all these years."

When reached for comment, Toushin told Windy City Times that he had "little to add" beyond the message. "I'm working with David Boyer at Touche to put together something for the last week so that we can go out on a high note," he said. "We appreciate and thank the gay community, and have been grateful to be a part of it for 46 years."

Activist Michael O'Connor has had a part-time job at the theater for several years, and said he'll miss it. He said, "I got to see the gay community evolve in that place. They were gay-friendly, lesbian-friendly and trans-friendly there. I received vacation and sick pay; places that do that for a part-time job, I imagine, are few and far between these days."

Bijou World, Toushin's mail-order and online video business, will remain open, but Toushin said he did not yet know where it will relocate to.

Toushin was put in charge of the Bijou in 1970; the venue began showing gay films exclusively in 1978. He has had a number of legal skirmishes over the years, including a conviction for tax evasion in the late '80s and a number of obscenity indictments.

He told Windy City Times in 2011 that the previous five years had been difficult, given the advent of Internet pornography and a reduced amount of convention business in the city.

"The Bijou customer, since the first day I opened the theater, has never been young, the 18-to-25-year-old crowd," Toushin said. "The Bijou is too intimidating; young men have to get to know themselves better. We're always getting in new people from Chicago who have heard of us, [or] seen our ads. People are still coming out at the Bijou, we have a lot of return customers, regulars, married men, tourists who come to the big city to experience what they would never do back home, people who want to see porn in a sexual environment with other men, people that want anonymous sex.

"There is nothing in the world like the Bijou. It is what sex was in the 1970s and '80s. The Bijou has never been pretty; it has always been deliciously nasty and I'll keep it that way till I'm done, then I'll turn off the lights and go home."

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