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Absence makes resident fonder of movie theater in downtown Riverhead

Moviegoers used to have at least two options

Moviegoers used to have at least two options to see films in Riverhead, at the Suffolk Theater and the former Capitol Theater building. There are no more downtown movie venues, however.   Photo Credit: James Carbone

Riverhead Town has not had a movie theater in decades, an absence that has prompted a resident to collect thousands of signatures in hopes of bringing the silver screen back to this corner of the North Fork. 

John Altadonna, 79, of Calverton, has been collecting signatures since February to persuade town officials to help bring a movie theater in Riverhead.

“People will say the movie industry is going down, there’s not that many people going to the movies anymore and there’s movie theaters closing up, but in my opinion, Riverhead is big enough and wants a movie theater in this town,” said Altadonna, who moved there in 1990. “If people want to see a movie here, they have to go to either Mattituck or Island 16 [in Holtsville]. There’s a lot of senior citizens that don’t want to travel that far.”

Altadonna said he has collected more than 3,000 signatures, which he plans to present to the Riverhead Town Board at its June 18 regular meeting. 

Moviegoers used to have at least two options to see films in Riverhead: the well-known Suffolk Theater on East Main Street and the former Capitol Theater building on West Main Street.

The Suffolk Theater closed in 1987 due to the popularity of multiplexes, changes in shopping habits and economic changes. The building reopened in 2013 but now focuses more on shows and concerts.

The Capitol Theater — which opened in November 24, 1920, and was renamed the Riverhead Theater in the early 1930s — closed its doors in 1972 when it was razed, according to Riverhead historian Georgette Case.

In recent years, there have been efforts besides Altadonna's to bring a movie theater back to Riverhead. The most recent was by Manhattan-based developer Philips International, which had been negotiating with Regal Cinemas to operate a theater at a former site for Walmart on Route 58. Negotiations fell through in 2018 and the theater plans were abandoned.

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said last month that while she is aware of the petition, bringing a movie theater to Riverhead isn't that simple.

“We would love to see a movie theater here,” Jens-Smith said. “We’ve reached out to the major movie theater chains, we’ve reached out to the developers here to try and get a movie theater here, but unless it’s economically feasible for the developer and the movie theater to come to a joint venture . . . that’s not something the town has any control over whatsoever.”

Though Altadonna said he understands that the town board is limited in courting a specific movie theater, he hopes the petition persuades them to provide an interested movie chain with the resources necessary to bring a movie theater back to town.

“If it’s paired with an upscale restaurant, it would be an attraction for people to go out, see a movie, have a nice dinner and go home,” Altadonna said.

SIGN HERE, PLEASE

Altadonna said he has collected signatures from residents across Riverhead Town, including Calverton, Wading River, Aquebogue and Laurel.

The petition, Altadonna said, has been circulated through local newspapers and participating local stores.

Altadonna said he would like to see a theater along the four-mile Route 58 corridor.

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