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Capitol Theatre breathes life back into Port Chester

The Capitol Theatre lighting director Sam Mason, 24,

The Capitol Theatre lighting director Sam Mason, 24, originally of Brooklyn and now living in Port Chester, works on lighting in preparation for Pat Benatar's concert in Port Chester. (Jan. 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

In the 1970s, the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester routinely hosted the biggest rock and roll acts of the day. Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and Eric Clapton were just a few of the notable names on the marquee.

But after the venue fizzled out in 1997, the building was unused save for occasional catering events like bar mitzvahs and weddings. The village around it, long dependent on a manufacturing economy, was also struggling to reinvent itself after factories left in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now, as the nation slowly recovers from the recession and as Port Chester is becoming known for its diverse culture and eclectic restaurants, "the Cap" is back, and breathing new life into Port Chester.

"The theater is changing the town and just bringing so much more excitement to Port Chester," said Meghan VonStankevich, 29, office manager at the Capitol Theatre. VonStankevich lived in Port Chester before the theater reopened and said she had always hoped for its return.

The good news came in late 2011, when music mogul Peter Shapiro -- owner of the popular concert venue Brooklyn Bowl and Relix Magazine -- struck a deal to bring live music back to the Capitol with then-owner Marvin Ravikoff. Shapiro officially bought the theater for $11.5 million in December.

Since Bob Dylan performed at the Capitol's reopening in September, nationally touring artists such as the Steve Miller Band, The Roots, Trey Anastasio, Blondie and Buddy Guy have graced its stage, and nearby businesses have reaped the benefits.

"All the restaurants and the businesses surrounding the Capitol are doing tremendously more business than they ever have," said Ken Manning, executive director of the Port Chester-Rye Brook-Rye Town Chamber of Commerce.

"On the nights of the shows, it's great, it's killer," said Tim Shanely, 46, who owns Coals, a grilled-pizza restaurant and bar located a short walk away from the theater.

Despite a state unemployment rate that hovers around 9 percent, Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla proudly said the theater has created more than 70 jobs in Port Chester -- openings that have both benefitted locals and brought many outsiders to the area.

For example, Richard Koharik, 23, moved to the village last year from Cleveland to take a job as monitor engineer and house master electrician at the Capitol.

"I've seen a huge improvement since I got here," Koharik said. "Seems like a lot of the local businesses have really embraced the Capitol coming back."

Pilla said the theater has created "natural synergies" with local restaurants, which have attracted business with concert-themed deals, such as discounts for customers who show a ticket stub.

The connection between restaurants and the Capitol doesn't only apply to concertgoers.

Sam Mason, 24, maintains electrical equipment backstage at the Capitol. The self-described "foodie" and Brooklyn transplant, called the food in the village "incredible."

And that's not the only benefit Mason has found.

"I live in a much, much bigger apartment than I did in Brooklyn," said Mason, who also moved to Port Chester last year. "I like it a lot here. It's really grown on me quite a bit."

For many, Port Chester seems to be another Hudson Valley town turning into Williamsburg North. With its affordable prices, eclectic downtown area, "cosmopolitan flare," and proximity to White Plains, Port Chester is an attractive destination for young people, Pilla said.

"You have to come into Port Chester to check out that show or go to that restaurant," Pilla said. "That's a nice combo."

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