Business Owners Eager For Cinema Restoration To Begin

A young shopper outside Kites of the Harbor. Gavin Menu photo
A young shopper outside Kites of the Harbor. Gavin Menu photo

By Stephen J. Kotz

In the days following last December’s devastating Sag Harbor Cinema fire, the village’s Main Street was crowded with holiday shoppers, many of whom were no doubt doing their part to pitch in as the village began its recovery effort.

But as winter arrived, and the reality that a half dozen shops and two real estate offices had been displaced by the blaze, a collective funk seemed to settle in over the village.

“More than financially, it just hurts emotionally,” said Linda Sylvester, the owner of Sylvester’s, a Main Street shop, who said the former art house cinema helped Sag Harbor stand out from neighboring villages.

“It was such a blow to Main Street,” said Lisa Field, an owner of the Sag Harbor Variety Store and president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “All these other stores weren’t there any more, all these other people weren’t coming to work. It almost gave the feeling that Sag Harbor was stuck in a rut.”

Ms. Field and Ms. Sylvester are two Main Street business owners who say they welcome the Sag Harbor Partnership’s effort to buy the shell of the movie theater and create in its place the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center that will result in a top-to-bottom renovation of the building provided the partnership can raise the $13 million needed to buy and restore the building.

“It’s very exciting for the long term of Sag Harbor,” Ms. Field said on Wednesday. “It will be like Bay Street Theater, but only it will be a different sort of arts venue that will be another reason to bring people to the village.”

Tracy Mitchell, the executive director of Bay Street Theater, said her organization also supported the rebuilding of the theater. A second cultural arts institution focusing on the cinema would be a welcome addition to the village, she said. “We certainly want to see it be a theater, not a clothing store,” she said.

Although Bay Street shows films from time to time and has hosted screenings by the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival, Ms. Mitchell said she envisioned a future in which the two organizations would be “able to work together to coordinate programing.”

Ms. Field also cheered the decision of the partnership to block the site with an 8-foot-tall wall that went up this week and will be covered with graphics showing what the interior of the space will look like when it is completed.

“We actually discussed it at a chamber meeting a couple of months ago,” she said. We asked, ‘Can’t we do something so it’s not this depressing burned out old building?’ This says, ‘We are rebuilding’ and that’s a positive.”

Joe Traina, the owner of the restaurant Page at 63 Main, said he too was excited about the prospects for the new cinema arts center.

“It was a tragic loss that struck at the heart of the village,” he said. “But the community, as in every disaster, circled the wagons and is now addressing the problem. We are going to have a great new theater that is going to rise from the ashes. It’s going to be better than ever.”

Mr. Traina, who said his business had not fallen off despite the absence of movie patrons from the village at the dinner hour, said he stood ready to help in fundraising efforts. “It’s our intent to support the partnership in any way that makes sense,” he said.

James Intermaggio, a hair stylist at the Fingers Salon in the Sag Harbor Shopping Cove, said he too would like to see the burned out neighboring properties restored, so the village can get back to normal. Mr. Intermaggio said Fingers had lost some walk-in business during the winter months as people stayed clear of the of area because most of the neighboring shops were either closed for the winter or damaged in the fire.

“We are holding pretty steady,” he said on Tuesday, noting the business was fortunate that the wind was blowing the other direction the morning of the fire, sparing it from damage.