Islip theater gets remake, to reopen mid-March

The Historic Islip Theater on West Main Street, The Historic Islip Theater on West Main Street, which opened circa 1946 but closed in 2006, is poised to reopen in mid-March. (Jan. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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The aroma of hot buttered popcorn will soon be wafting through the long-shuttered Islip Theater.

The circa-1946 venue on Islip's Main Street, closed since 2006, could be playing first-run movies by mid-March, through a planned remake of the community touchstone.

Rudy Prashad, who owns two theaters in Queens, has signed a long-term lease to operate the three-screen theater, which seats about 900. He's spending $500,000 on renovations to the interior, including paint, carpeting and new seating. The theater will be outfitted with new digital projectors for Real-D -- the latest in 3-D technology.

"I love the area, it's a beautiful, beautiful neighborhood," said Prashad, who operates the Center Cinema in Sunnyside and Main Street Cinemas in Kew Gardens. "I just want to keep it as a neighborhood movie theater."

The theater was once the pulse of Islip's entertainment district, with patrons lining up to buy tickets at a marble box-office. In 1982, the single theater was turned into a three-screen movie house; and in 2006, with increasing competition from mega cineplexes, it closed.

James Nazzaro, a real estate investor who bought the closed theater at auction in 2006, has tried since then to lease the property. Several deals -- which would have turned the venue into a day care center or a symphony hall -- fell through.

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In 2009, Nazzaro withdrew an application before the town's Planning Board to demolish the building and build a day care center.

"For six years, I've been painstakingly trying to find the right tenant," said Nazzaro, of the Bay Shore-based Nazzaro Group Llc. "It's just really gratifying to see it come to fruition."

When Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) posted news on his Facebook page earlier this month that the theater was set to reopen, the message garnered more than 600 likes.

"It's a tremendous shot in the arm for the community," Cilmi said. "Main Street in Islip has always enjoyed the community's support. We have a pretty successfully cohesive area in the Islip hamlet. This missing piece has always been like a blemish on our community. Now that blemish will be healed."

Prashad, who lives in Great Neck, said he has been greeted warmly as he has supervised crews working on the renovations. "We will have passersby knock on the glass door and say, 'What are you guys doing? Is this going to be a movie theater?' They're very excited."

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Prashad said he anticipates keeping prices "very low," - in the range of $2 less than the average movie ticket -- and that free municipal parking will be available.

"I want to attract neighborhood folks," he said. "There's no reason for people to have to go far . . . to go to the movies. They should be able to walk and drive a close distance and enjoy a movie with their family."

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