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Reopened Suffolk Theater going strong in Riverhead

Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, built in 1933, was

Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, built in 1933, was once hailed the "Radio City Music Hall of Long Island," but closed in 1987. It reopened in March and has come alive again offering dinner, drinks, comedic acts and musical performances. (Nov. 18, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

It was Diane Sawchuk’s first time back at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead since watching the premiere of the 1968 animated film “Yellow Submarine” as a teenager.

“I went there as a kid,” said Sawchuk, 58, of Riverhead. “I remember the theater was darker and older with red velvet walls. I just think it’s so beautiful now. They did a great job restoring it.”

Sawchuk accompanied her friends to the event, "An Evening With Psychic Jeffrey Wands," co-sponsored by WALK 97.5 Radio & the Suffolk Theater on Monday night.

The theater, originally built in 1933, was once hailed the “Radio City Music Hall of Long Island,” but it closed in 1987 amid a shifting economy in which multiplex theaters became difficult to compete with. It wasn’t until developer Bob Castaldi and his wife, Dianne, purchased the theater and spent years restoring it that it came alive again in March, offering dinner, drinks, comedic acts and musical performances at events.

“It’s just a matter of getting people in here to see how beautiful the theater is,” said Bob Castaldi, of Cutchogue. “The word is spreading. As you can see there are 250 to 300 people here tonight to see the show.”

Castaldi has high hopes for the theater and is confident it’ll become the heart of Riverhead.

“It’s a very unique little theater that by chance was saved and there aren’t too many art deco theaters,” he said, adding that they’ll also have a celebration for New Years Eve.

Tracy James, president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, said the theater “woke up” Main Street, especially at night and on the weekends.

"The aquarium was the nucleus and now the theater is slowly becoming the heart of downtown, shocking Main Street back to life."

James added that its reopening is a big step in the right direction toward revitalizing downtown.

"Just last Friday there were hundreds of people, both local and visiting, at the aquarium, theater and eating out," she said. "The synergy between all the businesses is amazing now."

It was Nancy Scott’s first time at the theater, but it made quite an impression. The psychic passed on a heartfelt message from her husband who died 14 years ago at age 57.

“I believed him. My husband’s sense of humor came through,” said Scott, 59, of Hampton Bays. “I’ll definitely come back. It’s quite a beautiful theater and a great event.”

Sawchuk said she doesn’t doubt that the theater is beneficially to the community.

“I grew up here and I remember when all the empty stores on Main Street were once filled,” Sawchuk said. “I’m hoping it brings more people to the area, and also brings in the locals.”

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