The new owner of the historic Snouder's Corner Drug Store in Oyster Bay -- home to the town's first telephone, which was used by future president Theodore Roosevelt -- says he's not sure whether he'll renovate it or ask permission to demolish it.
Either way, said Hamid Nazif, a Great Neck businessman, whatever sits on the corner of South and West Main streets will have the historic look of the Victorian-style building, which was built in the 1850s or 1860s.
The former owners of Snouder's closed the store in 2010. Nazif said the 7,000-square-foot building's "character" is a key reason he recently bought it for $690,000.
"I want to save it, but I'm not sure how I can save it," he said. "It's been in such bad shape and hasn't been taken care of in a long time. It's falling apart. I'm still investigating what I can do."
Even if the building could be saved, it may be too expensive to do so, he said, adding that if he was to demolish the building, he would build a replacement with the same design.
Eugene King, who along with Frank Genovese owned the building until last month's sale closing, said it underwent $400,000 in renovations in the early 1990s that included structural work. He does not believe the building is structurally unsound.
King said that if Nazif "demolishes the building, whatever retail he puts in, nobody will go there. The people love the building."
Nazif recently accepted the invitation of about a dozen community groups to meet with him to discuss his plans.
Philip Blocklyn, executive director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, one of the groups that requested the meeting, said he or others plan to explain to Nazif the difficulty under Oyster Bay code in demolishing the building, which the town declared a landmark in 1987.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission reviews any proposed alterations or demolition to landmark buildings, town spokesman Brian Devine said.
Blocklyn said unless there were a severe public safety problem with the building, "I can't imagine demolition being approved." He said he wants to work with Nazif but said "we always want to see rehabilitation and preservation."
The landmark law restricts changes to the exterior of protected buildings. Patrick Valente, the associate real estate broker who handled the sale to Nazif, said he had many inquiries about the building, but some were deterred by the limitations of landmark status. That's one reason the building sold under its initial $995,000 asking price, he said.
Matthew Meng, president of the East Norwich Civic Association, said he is worried about the strength of the town's landmark protections after the partial demolition of the landmark Maine Maid Inn in Jericho earlier this year. His group sued the town, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the building's owner, reaching an August legal agreement that preserves some historical features.
Nazif said that, among his plans for the building, whether it is renovated or rebuilt, is to put retail on the lower level and perhaps apartments on the upper level.
Nazif said he stumbled upon Snouder's when he and his wife were walking past it and saw the "for sale" sign.
"It's a beautiful building," he said.
The Snouder's building at the corner of South and West Main streets in Oyster Bay hamlet was the town's longest continually running business when it closed in 2010, said Philip Blocklyn, executive director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society.
It was built in the 1850s or 1860s. Its original use is unclear but it housed a drug store starting in the early 1880s.
Eugene King and Frank Genovese bought the business in 1976 and the building in 1986. The town designated it a landmark in 1987.
King and Genovese closed Snouder's in 2010, saying it had been losing money for years. Huntington accountant Ray Eaton formed the Snouder's Corner Drug Store Foundation to raise money to buy and repurpose the building. But King said he and Genovese put the property up for sale.