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Greenport’s historic movie theater may stay open in winter

Greenport movie theater

The Greenport movie theater can remain open in winter — but someone else will have to run it.

That’s the offer being made to the community by theater owner Josh Sapan.

Mr. Sapan, who has owned the four-screen theater since 2004 and did extensive renovations there before reopening it in 2006, said it was Greenport Mayor George Hubbard Jr. who reached out to him with the idea.

“The mayor expressed interest in the theater being open in the winter, and that had always been a desire of mine since I’ve owned it,” Mr. Sapan said in an interview Saturday.

“Unfortunately, it’s hard to sustain economically, even in the summer.

Mr. Sapan, the CEO of AMC Networks, said that challenge becomes particularly daunting in the winter months at the theater, which usually opens in the summer and closes around Labor Day.

“There just isn’t enough business [in the offseason],” he said, “as much as there’s desire from some members of the community.”

Mr. Sapan said he told Mr. Hubbard that if the village can cover the costs of insurance and operations, he’ll lease the facility at no cost.

Mr. Hubbard brought up that offer at last Thursday’s meeting of the Village Board and it was met with support from other board members.

The mayor said the next step will be to meet with village attorney Joe Prokop to figure out what mechanism can be used to turn the proposal into a reality.

Mr. Hubbard said the village itself probably can’t hire people to work at a private theater, but a community group could be established to do so.

“We need to somehow work this out so you get the movie theater to stay open,” Mr. Hubbard said.

The Greenport Theater was built in 1939, shortly after the previous theater in that location was destroyed by the 1938 hurricane, Mr. Sapan said.

“If you look in the lobby, you see all the historic pictures of the original theater that was there,” he said.

“I collect anything related to the theater and put it up in the lobby,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun because there are people who are enthusiasts for movie theaters — and I happen to be one of them.”

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she’s already heard from residents interested in working with the village to keep the theater open.

“A lot of people are excited about it,” she said. “They want to do anything they can to help.”

“Basically, we need a manager, someone to run the concession stand and a projectionist and he’ll train people for that what they need to do,” Mr. Hubbard said. “ It’s a positive thing and I think it’s going to be really good for the village and the whole North Fork.”

“We want to do it so when [Mr. Sapan] opens up for this summer, we’re ready to go for that September and keep it going,” the mayor said.

Mr. Sapan noted he’s also made the theater available to East End Arts for its photography show, to the Maritime Festival for movies and to the Manhattan Film Institute and the East End Student Film festival, among other groups. A Marie Eiffel Market was also added to the theater last summer.

Mr. Sapan said his ownership of the theater “is a labor of love.”

“I’m not there in the wintertime, but I am delighted to donate it for use by the community, and I really hope they find a way to keep it open,” he said. “I purchased it so it would be vital and alive and so the neon would be up all year.”

Greenport resident Chatty Allen said she’s as excited for this as she is for another project Mr. Hubbard recently embarked on: reviving the miniature railroad in Greenport.

“I think it’s a great idea and I think we might also be able to get a lot of us old-timers to volunteer and help out with both projects,” she said at last Thursday’s Village board meeting. “People like myself would love to be involved.”

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Photo credit: Kelly Zegers

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