It takes a community to buy a theater. And in Mattituck this year, that’s exactly what happened.
Over the course of four years, the North Fork Community Theatre successfully raised $500,000 to purchase the church building it has performed in for more than 50 years.
More than $200,000 of the funds was raised in the final year of the campaign, which ended in September, just after the theater’s final 20-year lease expired.
It was after neighboring Mattituck Presbyterian Church, which had allowed the theater to use the building virtually rent-free for decades, decided it no longer wanted to continue the friendly arrangement, that the theater sought to keep their Old Sound Avenue space by purchasing the building outright.
“This is permanent now,” said Mary Motto Kalich, who chaired the campaign to raise the more than $500,000 necessary to purchase the building. “This is not just for me and not just for my kid. This is for many generations beyond us.”
The Rev. George Gafga, church pastor, blessed the building on Sept. 25 — thanking those who shepherded the process along, including church trustee Jeff Strong, who spearheaded efforts to sell the building to the theater and Riverhead Town Justice Richard Ehlers, who the Rev. Gaffga said on his own time “did the legal legwork” needed to complete the transaction.
The pastor joked that now that the theater was legally separated from the church, it could perform “Oh! Calcutta!,” a racy sketch series featuring nudity.
Raising the money necessary to purchase the building and its surrounding property was phase one of The North Fork Theatre’s fundraising goal and the group is now ensuring they have enough capital to cover deferred maintenance. President Bob Beodeker said phase two could include replacing the seats and other improvements to the theater.
Mr. Boedeker said after the building’s purchase, everyone was just pleased to be able to continue calling the theater home.
“We’re very appreciative of all the people who made this possible,” he said. “It wasn’t just a few large donors. It was lots of people making all kinds of contributions of 100 dollars, 500 dollars, 1,000 dollars.”
In all, nearly 700 different people donated money to the effort, which began just as the economy started to tank.
“The community gave repeatedly, over and over, at a time when it was most difficult to do so,” said Ms. Motto Kalich, who began performing at the theater in 1985, when she was just 13 years old. “They really love this place and they wanted to make sure it was still here.”