Iconic Cinema Is For Sale


Independent film aficionados eager to catch the newest flick at the iconic art-house move theatre, Sag Harbor Cinema, may have been surprised this week to learn the theatre is for sale after calling the cinema for times for this week’s film “Tell No One.”

On the Sag Harbor Cinema’s answering machine, following a description of the French thriller, callers interested in renting, leasing or buying the theatre are asked to e-mail sagharborcinema@aol.com.

On Tuesday, Sag Harbor Cinema owner Gerald Mallow confirmed the theatre was in fact for sale, but said he had no further comment at this time.

“I would like to say God Bless Gerry Mallow for trying to keep it going for as long as he has,” said Sag Harbor resident and photographer Brenda Siemer on Wednesday, who, four years ago, rallied residents to preserve the iconic sign that hangs on the front of the building.

The Sag Harbor Cinema primarily screens independent and foreign films, rather than blockbuster and mainstream movies seen in neighboring theaters. Siemer recalled a time when art-house and independent theatre owners had a plethora of diverse and exceptional independent films available at prices an independent theatre owner could afford. That has all changed with the evolution of the film business, she noted, with Harvey Weinstein expanding the independent film market to a point where films are being purchased for millions of dollars. Larger movie theater chains, like United Artists, have also made it increasingly difficult for smaller cinema’s to survive, she said.

“He’s held it together for so many years and I say that is a good thing,” said Siemer.

Siemer is no stranger to the Sag Harbor Cinema or its owner, after she was famously involved in an effort to save the Sag Harbor Cinema neon sign that adorns the theater’s façade. In May of 2004, Siemer and playwright Joe Pintauro rescued the sign after construction workers told them it was destined for the dump. The sign was reportedly in great need of repair. Mallow later reported it stolen to Sag Harbor Village Police, although charges were never filed. Mallow agreed to place a replica of the sign, rather than a different replacement, on the building after area residents mounted a fundraising campaign to save the sign. 

The Village of Sag Harbor is currently under a commercial moratorium while officials re-write the village’s zoning code. The zoning code re-write has been undertaken, in part, to save the character of Sag Harbor’s Main Street – one dominated by independent retailers rather than luxury chain stores, which dominate nearby village centers like East Hampton.

According to Sag Harbor Village attorney Anthony Tohill the proposed code presents advantages for Mallow as movie theaters are permitted in the village business district, while the cinema is non-conforming under the current code. Tohill said the building could also become anything that is permitted in the village business district. Antique shops, book stores, clothing stores, flower shops or variety stores are just some of the proposed permitted uses, although any new business would be subject to proposed size restrictions in the village business district.

Under the proposed code for the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board the sign, if considered a historic feature, should be preserved if at all possible, said Tohill.

It is Siemer’s hope that someone buys the building for theater and gallery space.

“I hope Steven Spielberg reads this because this could be a lovely space to do community outreach through a film school,” she said. “My children love to make films like his children love to make films.”

April Gornik, a North Haven artist and member of Save Sag Harbor, a not-for-profit that sent out an e-mail alert regarding the sale of the cinema said she desperately hoped the theater would ultimately remain in the village as it currently functions.

“It is such a treasure, as a landmark and for the unique service it provides the community,” she said. “It is rarely a wasted experience to go to the Sag Harbor Cinema.”

Photo by kathryn g. menu