The Village of Patchogue has a long, storied past, having begun in the 1800s as a boat-building community, eventually transforming into a tourist mecca with over 1,000 hotel rooms and soon thereafter blossoming into a thriving business center with department stores that included JC Penny, Woolworth, and Swezey’s. But, as malls became more prevalent across Long Island in the ‘60s and ‘70s, business started to plummet and so did the Village of Patchogue. The village did maintain some semblance, but it wasn’t until recently that a renaissance began in the village that has put Patchogue back on the map as destination for arts, entertainment, and dining.
Mayor Paul Pontieri who has been touted as a mayor with a vision says the Village of Patchogue’s renaissance has been a long time coming.
“We needed to figure out how to transition into something else,” said Pontieri. “My sense was that we needed something to put people on Main Street and walk downtown.”
That kick-start came in the form of a development project called ArtSpace, said Pontieri.
ArtSpace, which provides living quarters for visual and performing artists, had their sights on several downtown communities around Long Island. Riverhead, which has a flourishing arts community, was being considered, but Pontieri couldn’t let the opportunity pass and begin to court ArtSpace, pointing to the village’s budding not-for-profit performing arts theater.
In the end, he wooed the non-profit organization which opened a five-story building, complete with 45 affordable apartments and workspace for artists, in 2011. The $18 million project also includes a 2,000 square-foot gallery, where local artists display their work.
The project has since attracted numerous artists to the area, including musical theater composer Howard Beckerman and his wife Linda, who is a visual artist. When the pair heard about ArtSpace, they sold their Stony Brook home to take advantage of the up-and-coming artists community.
“Ever since ArtSpace opened, the Village of Patchogue has become a flourishing arts community. It’s exploding in music, visual arts, and theater,” said Beckerman, who said that the village’s theater also attracted him to the area.
Beckerman is a supporter of original musical productions and was instrumental in creating a program at the Patchogue Theatre, called the New Musicals Project, which offers a monthly venue for original composers and musicians. To date, Beckerman has been involved in eight original musical productions as part of the theater’s “Live in the Lobby” series, which bring in crowds on Thursday to hear the original sounds of musicians.
The Lobby series, said Chris Capobianco, a 9-year Patchogue Theatre board member, is a program that he likes to think served as a catalyst to the musical movement on Main Street.
Over the past several years, Capobianco said, the music scene has exploded in the village, with nearly every restaurant offering live music on any given night of the week, not to mention venues such as The Emporium, 89 North, and Blue Point Brewery.
“You’d be hard-pressed not to find live music in Patchogue,” said Capobianco.
Aside from kick-starting the music scene, the 91-year-old theater, which was rebuilt in 1996, has stood as a fixture in the community that has also helped the restaurant industry to rebuild, said Capobianco.
Throughout the course any given year, the volunteer-run theater, which has a mission to provide variety and affordability brings in between 130,000 and 140,000 patrons who, Capobianco says, are not only looking for a night out to see a great show, but a whole experience, including dinner and drinks.
Enter the Brickhouse Brewery, which Capobianco says understood the need for a good restaurant in the area — other restaurateurs soon followed and now there are over a dozen fine eateries and bars in the area.
Through the efforts of the Patchogue Arts Council, these restaurants - as well as the theater - soon embraced the visual arts community, decorating their walls with the work of local artists and hosting pop-up galleries.
Visual arts are thriving, said John Cino, president of the 300-member strong Patchogue Arts Council, which has been very successful in attracting well-known artists to its three-year-old gallery space. That gallery is located in the Artspace building along with the Plaza Media Arts Center that shows first-run films.
“We have had various shows throughout the year, with interesting artists as well as internationally-known artists,” said Cino, adding that the success of the gallery is due to his organization’s goal to bring in a mix of art to attract a variety of community members to the facility.
The arts council also has plans to expand on its feats by working to plan a first annual arts festival for this coming October, called PAC MAC, which will feature pop-up galleries, film, music, art insulations, juried shows, and performing arts at various locations throughout the village from October 17 to October 26.
Aside from the newest festival, the village is also home to the Great South Bay Music Festival, which brings in thousands of people every July for a three-day music festival that features over 55 musicians on four stages, as well as vendors.
And we would be remiss, if we didn’t mention the Chamber of Commerce’s 13-year-old Alive After Five summer festival series, which brings droves of people to Patchogue, four nights during the summer for live entertainment and vendors who pack out Main Street.
Last year, the Alive After Five series moved to Thursday nights and David Kennedy, executive director of the Patchogue Chamber of Commerce said it has also expanded to incorporate more artists.
“When you walk to the festival, you will now be greeted by working artists along the streets, performing their craft. You will be hit with acoustic music and poetry readings,” he said.
The festival, which used to be held on Friday nights, also now features an expanded family area to help draw more community families to the event, and over the summer the area will feature teen talent shows, children’s music, and dancing.
The popularity of Alive After Five, which has introduced people to Patchogue, coupled with the spiral of changes in the village is now starting to attract more new business, said Kennedy.
Opening recently is the New Village at Patchogue, which features 291 upscale and workforce housing apartments, 46,000 square feet of retail space, and 16,000 square feet of office space at the corner of North Ocean Avenue and Main Street.
The developers of the project, TriTec, said they explored other communities for their project, but the Village of Patchogue was ripe for this type of development.
“The infrastructure was there,” said Christopher Kelly, director of marketing for TriTec, “and the mayor believed in the importance of projects like this.”
While Patchogue had fallen off the map for a while, Kelly said, “It has become a very happening area.”
Coming soon to Patchogue, says Kennedy, will be a new restaurant called Rum, owned by the same owners of popular Hamptons restaurants Cowfish and Rumba.
The sky is the limit for what happens next in the Village of Patchogue, and Kennedy believes that the next step is to open the village, which touts access to the Fire Island National Seashore, to tourists by urging the owners of the area’s historic properties to open their homes as B&Bs. Kennedy said the village is also looking to work with St. Joseph’s College hospitality program to open a student-run hotel.
“We are getting there step-by-step and as a life-long resident of Patchogue, I have seen all the changes in the community, from where it was to where it is now and I am still just floored.”
Photo: Composite - The New Village at Patchogue (left) courtesy TriTec, Artspace Patchogue (right) photo by Taylor
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