Sag Harbor is Open for Business as Recovery Begins; Fire Was Not Arson

The remains of the Sag Harbor Cinema Saturday afternoon on a Main Street that is open for business. Kathryn G. Menu photo.

By Kathryn G. Menu

Vicki Nolan, of Country Lane in Sag Harbor, can’t remember many days when she was open for business when someone didn’t take a picture in front of the Sag Harbor Cinema – whether it was a wedding, a family photograph, or just a resident ambling down Main Street, taking a moment to capture an image of that iconic facade.

On Saturday, Ms. Nolan opened her business – located directly across the street from the Cinema – as demolition crews finished tearing down the front portion of the Cinema building, rain and melting snow mixing with the charred remains of one of Sag Harbor’s most beloved cultural institutions. She said she decided to hold her annual holiday sale early this year – in an effort to bring even just a handful of shoppers to a Main Street reeling in the aftermath of a fire that began Friday morning and destroyed or damaged five commercial buildings holding eight businesses and four apartments. No one was hurt in the blaze, which brought close to 20 fire departments and emergency service crews into the village Friday morning. Santa was even spied coming down Main Street, courtesy of the Sag Harbor Fire Department.

Sidewalks were reopened around the site of the fire, according to Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire, paving the way for businesses to reopen for a critical weekend of holiday shopping before Christmas and Hanukah. The Variety Store – owned by Sag Harbor Chamber President Lisa Field – was open for business, as was The Wharf Shop, the toy store owned by Nada Barry and her daughter, Gwen Waddington, the puzzles designed by the business that featured the Sag Harbor Cinema and other iconic village landmarks sold out. The non-profit Save Sag Harbor send an email blast encouraging residents and visitors to come to the village and support local businesses – retailers and restaurants alike.

On Saturday, Taylor Rose Berry – the owner of Harbor Books on Main Street – announced she will host a village get-together on Wednesday night from 6 to 9 p.m. featuring hot toddies, snacks, stories and music. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the restoration of the cinema, she said.

According to Chief McGuire, the demolition of the Cinema was nearly complete Saturday afternoon – the rear portion of the building that contains the actual theater is structurally sound and will remain.

Reached by phone Saturday morning, cinema owner Gerald Mallow said he was badly shaken up and declined to be interviewed.

The building next to the Cinema that housed the Compass real estate group will also likely be demolished today, said Chief McGuire, although it will be dismantled carefully, said the Chief, in order to not damage the building next door, which houses Collette and Matta clothing stores. That structure, as well as the building that houses Brown Harris Stevens, is being assessed by engineers Monday, he said.

“We are saddened by the fire on Main Street in Sag Harbor; our thoughts and prayers go out to our neighbors, the entire community and those who love the movie theater. Although our office has been severely damaged, our agents and staff are safe,” said a spokesperson for Brown Harris Stevens. “Our agents will continue to service their clients with the support of our many offices in the Hamptons. We have already identified a new space in Sag Harbor and we will remain an involved member of this community as it rebuilds.”

While the cause of the fire is still being narrowed down, said Chief McGuire, fire investigators – also known as an arson squad – have said it was not intentionally caused and that arson has been ruled out.

“There was no criminality,” said Chief McGuire. “This was not an intentional fire. We know that 100 percent.”

In the meantime, as the damage continues to be assessed, Mayor Sandra Schroeder said she was working with Assemblyman Fred Thiele to offer businesses resources through the New York State Small Business Development Center. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman also met at a conference with village officials Friday evening – offering their support, as well as any resources to help the village, and businesses in the effort to rebuild.

Ms. Schroeder said village residents and business owners were rallying around each other.

“I don’t even know how we can thank everyone,” she said. “I can’t keep up with the amount of goodness in this village – yesterday, and even today, everyone wants to help and do everything they can.”

Right now, the Mayor said the best thing everyone can do is go shopping, in Sag Harbor.