If you stroll the sidewalk along Main Street in Riverhead then you’ve probably noticed all the “Business Coming Soon” or “Under Construction” signs in the windows. It has been a while since Main Street has looked this alive, the thriving outlets and mega stores on County Route 58 have diverted much of the shopping traffic that once ran through this part of town.
Main Street had not been the same after the closing of Sears and the popular Swezey’s, as tenants were unable to fill the vacancy left by these department stores.
There is also considerable construction under way on County Route 58, the other main road in Riverhead. However, many locals will tell you, there’s only one main road in town. Main Street.
The downtown, sitting pretty with a scenic waterfront along the Peconic River, between the forks of Long Island’s East End, is a hub of courthouses, amiable restaurants, new and old hotels, and historic buildings, as well as a hub for future mom-and pop-stores.
“The town is reinventing itself,” said Chris Kempner, Riverhead Town’s Community Development Director, in a phone interview. “It’s totally a new paradigm down here…Riverhead is defining itself now with its own personality.”
“The heart of the town is downtown,” Edwin Fishel Tuccio, owner of Tweed’s Restaurant and Bison Bar on Main Street, told me.
There are several new businesses anticipating opening before this summer, such as Raphael’s Famous Italian Ice, Blue Duck Bakery, and a three-story bookstore, along with the businesses, hotels, and restaurants that opened up in the last year such as, Cody’s BBQ & Grill, the Riverhead Project (restaurant), Hyatt Place Long Island/East End and the Red Collection—a furniture and antique store. The historic Suffolk Theater’s renovation is set to be complete by this upcoming fall.
“We are rebuilding Main Street the old-fashioned way: block-by-block, store-by-store,” informs Sean M. Walter, Riverhead Town Supervisor, in an interview last June with The Wall Street Journal.
Walter has been trying to get a movie theater company to build a cinema on Main Street. Although past talks and negotiations haven’t come to fruition, the town supervisor has extended his mission to numerous other movie theater companies.
“Supervisor Walter has been actively pursuing a movie theater for some time now,” says Kempner. “He’ll get it soon.”
For Ivan Albert, the owner of the new Raphael’s Famous Italian Ices on Main Street, the experience and the local support has been grand. “For us, it has been overwhelmingly great,” he said in an interview by phone. This isn’t Albert’s first store; he owns two others in Port Jefferson and Greenport, but feels that the Riverhead community is blossoming and unlike any other local community. “They want Main Street back, they want their town back,” he says. Albert describes his ice cream shop as another block in the rebuilding process, “I want to be a part of this,” he adds.
When deciding where to build his frozen ice cream shop Albert received many opinions suggesting he build his shop on County Route 58, but he never considered it much, as he had his sights on Main Street. “I want to be the town ice cream shop…I want to be a part of that revitalization.”
The Riverhead Town Board is adamantly dedicated to revitalizing Main Street. The town has taken great measures to build up the riverfront with the revitalization to Grangebel Park. The rebuilding Main Street plan also includes bringing more riverfront residences downtown with the Summerwind Project. The Summerwind Project is a building on Peconic Avenue that will feature 52 units of workforce housing, with a ground floor designated for retail rental, bringing in more residences and businesses.
“This is pretty exciting,” says Kempner, referring to the Summerwind Project, “it is a new riverside.”
The older town board, which supported the expansion on County Route 58, is gone. New members are looking to revitalize what Riverhead already has. The town has grown extensively over the last two decades, as the town population is now over 33,500, according to the 2010 census.
“For almost seven years I was the lone bison—so to speak—on East Main Street, but perseverance has paid off,” says Tuccio. Small, personalized local businesses are coming back to Riverhead and the East End.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would have a Hyatt Hotel, see the Suffolk Theater renovated, witness the opening of eight more restaurants, the creation of a world class aquarium, the energy is palatable,” continues Tuccio.
As in its past, Downtown Riverhead is abuzz with its new changes and new neighbors. “I think they (the town board) owe it to the town—to the community—to bring back our town,” Tuccio adds.
Other local owners are just as optimistic about the future.
“We’re here to stay,” exclaims Albert.
The Town Board deserves a pat on the back for all their hard work.