Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts has been a vital...

Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts has been a vital force in boosting business at restaurants and bars on Main Street. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, which had been a linchpin for the village's booming downtown economy before closing on March 12, has terminated all of its employees because of the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said. 

Board chairman Ryan Murphy on Saturday said he called each of the theater’s eight full-time staffers as well as part-timers to inform them that their last day of employment will be Friday. Workers, who also received a termination letter, were told that the locks on the theater’s doors had been changed and they must schedule an appointment to collect their belongings.

The board also stated that the theater plans on reopening in September under a different business structure and employees can reapply for their jobs. Workers will not receive severance pay, but the theater is continuing full-timers' health coverage through May 31. 

"It's bad enough that we had to take action to release them," Murphy said. 'We did not want people released in the midst of a public health emergency without having any sort of protection."

That still didn't make the news any less painful for longtime employees, including executive director Gary Hygom. “It was quite a shock. Everyone understands what is happening with the coronavirus and the financial effect it has taken on everybody. I am profoundly saddened that this decision was made prior to making any outreach to the community or to our funding partners.” 

According to Murphy, the board had been grappling with the decision for weeks and considered alternatives such as reducing employees' hours and making pay cuts. "We could have cut salaries in half, but people may be eligible for more money on unemployment," Murphy said.

Applying for a small business loan was another option, but even at a 2.5% interest rate, Murphy said it wasn't feasible. "Even at that low rate, you're still borrowing money and paying money on top of that money. … We need to protect our finances to restaff and book shows when the theater reopens."

The village mayor said reopening the theater is a priority.

"That theater is one of the reasons Patchogue came back the way it has," Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri. "It made Main Street profitable and successful. They can't draw down funds to the point where they can't reopen."

September 1 is the target reopening date for the theater, which presented concerts, film screenings, comedy shows and theatrical productions. The theater closed just days before it was to present "The Diary of Anne Frank." Murphy said the board is using the theater's down time to build a new business model, which could include combining job titles and responsibilities. How quickly audiences will return is still uncertain.

"This is a life-altering event. People are going to come out of this changed and people for a long time may still be uncomfortable coming into a large assembly place," he said. "The government may say venues can reopen at half capacity."

While Murphy ponders a reopening, Hygom, who was very close with his co-workers, is looking for closure. “All the bars and restaurants are closed,” he said. “We can’t even all go out and have a drink together.”

Latest videos