Sag Harbor Businesses Reel After Main Street Fire

The “Sag” of the Sag Harbor Cinema sign sits alone during the demolition of the cinema building Friday night. Annette Hinkle photo.

By Peter Boody

As Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tom Preiato looks on, the Sag Harbor Cinema facade is torn down following the devastating fire on Main Street on Friday, December 16. Michael Heller photo

As the insurance claims piled up and adjustors met with harried owners, no one knew for sure this week what the future will bring for all the businesses and properties affected by December 16 blaze that gutted the lobby of the Sag Harbor Cinema and left at least three other structures in ruins.

Sag Harbor Cinema owner Gerald Mallow declined to be interviewed when reached by phone the day after the fire, describing himself as badly shaken up. He later agreed by email to talk but could not be reached again by press time.

The heads of the two real estate offices kicked off Main Street by the fire — Compass and Brown Harris Stevens — promised to return as soon as reconstruction allows, as did retailer Henry Lehr.

“The store is definitely going to be reopen as soon as we can,” Mr. Lehr wrote in an email Tuesday. The landlord “has definitely confirmed that he is going to repair all the damage done to the building and the store,” Mr. Lehr wrote.

The interior of SagTown Coffee following Friday’s fire.

Shane Dyckman, the proprietor of SagTown Coffee, vowed to bring back his shop. “I am going to be like a phoenix and rise from the ashes and make the coffee shop bigger and better then it ever was and as quickly as possible,” he said.

Mr. Dyckman, a fireman who helped battle the blaze, was reeling from a total loss, including an office downstairs from which he had run all his businesses: his Flying Point surfing school and fishing charter businesses, the Service Station restaurant and another SagTown Coffee shop in Montauk.

Senior Managing Director John Gicking of Compass, who had just opened the Sag Harbor office last year, said all his agents’ historical paper records had been lost in the fire. Current records are safe in the cloud and his agents are working out of the Southampton office, he said.

The Meridian Building is demolished on Monday afternoon. Michael Heller photo.

“My bigger disappointment is simply not having a presence on Main Street,” he said, just to the north of the Sag Harbor Cinema. “I think the office we were in was arguably the best location in all of Sag Harbor for a real estate firm. The amount of presence that movie theatre had, the foot traffic on that particular spot, is just sort of unparalleled.”

The landlord “is definitely planning on rebuilding,” Mr. Gicking said. “We’ve already had lots of conversations on moving back when it’s done.”

Smoke and water heavily damaged the building just to the south of the cinema that houses the Brown Harris Stevens real office. Asked if the firm would return to Sag Harbor, Cia Comnas, executive managing director of Hamptons operations, replied, “Emphatically, yes, and we are still sorting out the details.”

The Meridian Building on Main Street that was adjacent to the Sag Harbor Cinema is torn down by a Keith Grimes demolition crew on Monday. Michael Heller photo.

She said her agents were working from home and other offices “without missing a beat” but described the Sag Harbor office as a “small jewel.” She wrote that the firm hoped to return to that location “at some point.”

“While we are of course concerned with getting our Sag Harbor office back as soon as possible,” she added, “we really feel for the merchants in Sag Harbor whose businesses will be disrupted far more than ours and for the displaced residents” of upstairs apartments.

Landlords either could not be reached by press time or declined to comment for the record. According to building inspector Thomas Prieato, a structural engineer is expected to inspect the building that houses Brown Harris Stevens, 96 Main Street.

“There is visible structural damage, but I won’t be assessing just how much,” he said in an email. “Some of the building will be removed.”

The interior of Collette consignment fashion following Friday’s fire. Michael Heller photo.

The proprietors of Colette and Matta, two women’s clothing shops that were destroyed in the fire, could not be reached by press time. Both retailers also operate online.

Crews demolished the Meridian Building that housed the Compass real estate office on Monday, the day after they had torn down the charred lobby and unsteady facade of the theatre. Now a gaping hole is all that’s left of an art deco landmark that had anchored the village for generations.

Because the curb and sidewalk there have been cordoned off, the Hampton Jitney has been making its pickups in front of the Whaling & Historical Museum at 200 Main Street.

Kathryn Szoka of Canio’s Books snapped this picture of the interior of the actual cinema space in the Sag Harbor Cinema, which appears intact.

One business won’t be back. RJD art gallery owner Richard Demato, a tenant in Mr. Mallow’s cinema building, said Tuesday he had already made arrangements to move out of Sag Harbor because he had been unable to find an appropriate space in the village.

“There’s nowhere else for us to be,” he said. “We’re already in knee deep” into the process of renting a new location in either Southampton or Bridgehampton.

Mr. Demato, who stood and watched his space burn, said, “It’s very hard for us to leave Sag Harbor. Sag Harbor is a real village.”

He said he had lost about 75 paintings in the shop worth between $1.2 and $1.4 million retail and was facing difficulties with his insurance adjustors. He described them as ogres. “They not only want to break you down; they kind of enjoy it,” he said.

He broke down in tears briefly as he spoke about the charity fund-raising he’d been able to foster among some of his gallery customers, including a single donation of $50,000 for The Retreat made by one of his clients.

Mr. Demato predicted that Mr. Mallow would not rebuild the cinema because it was never a moneymaker. “I know a lot of people would like to put another movie there but it’s just not practical financially,” he said.

Mr. Mallow, a former commercial real estate developer in Rockland County and other suburbs who grew up in Brooklyn, is a film aficionado and fan of single-screen theatres, who operated the 7,000-square-foot, 400-seat theatre largely as a labor of love.

“He is very similar to me in the one sense that we both loved what we were doing. It wasn’t work; it was passion,” said Mr. Demato. “He loved movies. To me, you can’t possibly put another movie there because it’s not cost effective.”

The building that houses the Banducci, Katz & Ferraris accounting firm, damaged by smoke and flooding in the basement, reopened for business on Tuesday after professionals had cleaned it and run air pumps to filter the air.

Greg Ferraris, a former mayor, credited the first responders for containing Friday’s blaze despite high winds and frigid temperatures. As for downtown Sag Harbor, he said, “Based on history and the people in this community, it will come back better than it was before.”

The Sag Harbor Variety Store, known as the Five and Ten, was back in business after full power was restored there two days after the fire with no damage, according to owner Lisa Field, who heads the Chamber of Commerce.

She issued a statement on Monday thanking “those in our community who volunteer and sacrifice to keep us safe.”

“We see each other every day,” she wrote, “yet in the face of adversity, we are made aware of our connections and what makes us special.”

Nada Barry, owner with daughter Gwen Waddington of the Wharf Shop, has witnessed three major fires across the street from her store, which she opened in 1968 in a structure that dates back to the 1830s and survived the great fire that destroyed most of Main Street in 1845.

She said there was no damage from smoke to her building or her inventory. Although there was a sharp drop in business the day of the fire, she said gawkers viewing the ruins and a “shop locally” campaign created a “bump” in traffic and may have made up for any loss.