Gain New Life As Theater Operator Reveals Purchase Pact?
STALKER for The Westfield Leader
and The Times
A veteran movie theater
operator has apparently saved the day for the 75-year-old
Rialto Theatre, the future of which has remained
uncertain for more than a year, by promising to keep the
popular cinema intact while also giving it a fresh new
look and updated amenities.
Jesse Sayegh, President of CJM
Entertainment in Cedar Grove confirmed during a Thursday
afternoon press conference in front of the theater on
East Broad Street that he recently had reached an
agreement with United Artists to purchase both the Rialto
Theatre and the Bellevue Theatre in Upper Montclair for
an undisclosed sum.
The press conference was
attended by Mayor Thomas C. Jardim and former Mayor
Garland C. "Bud" Boothe, Jr., members of the
"Save the Rialto" Committee and others who have
been involved in the struggle to keep the towns
last remaining theater from fading into memory.
Anthony Schilling, President of
Relocation Realty in Westfield, which brokered the deal
between Mr. Sayegh and United Artists, explained that the
agreement, which is expected to be finalized within the
next several months, was hammered out after Long Island
developer Herman "Hy" Carlinsky abandoned his
option to purchase the theater earlier this month.
Mr. Sayegh, who has been in
business for 20 years, owns theaters in several other New
Jersey communities, including Linden, Cedar Grove and
Ocean Township, in addition to the newly-acquired
Bellevue Theatre. He said during the press conference
that his interest in movie theaters dates back to his
youth when he worked as an usher and a theater
He said he plans to continue
offering first-run films at the Rialto, and that he also
intends to make some aesthetic improvements, including
revamping the lobby, installing new carpets and seating
and upgrading the buildings sound system. Mr.
Sayegh said he anticipates splitting the upstairs theater
to create a total of four screens, but added that during
renovations only one theater would be closed at a time to
minimize inconvenience to patrons.
Regarded by many local
residents as the centerpiece of Westfields
downtown, the Rialto has been a landmark on the corner of
East Broad Street and Central Avenue since 1922. United
Artists first announced in 1995 that it was selling many
of its small theaters, including the Rialto, the Bellevue
and the Pasquack Theatre in Westwood, in order to
concentrate on multiplexes which can generate greater
Mr. Schilling confirmed that he
and Mr. Sayegh first began discussing the possibility of
the latter buying the Rialto from United Artists about a
year and a half ago, but that the prospective deal faded
because the participants could not come to an agreement
on a price at that time. Shortly afterwards, Mr.
Carlinsky acquired a contract option to purchase the
However, Mr. Schilling said
that he and Mr. Sayegh continued to discuss other real
estate deals throughout last year and that during this
time he kept the CJM President apprised of the Rialto
situation. Once Mr. Carlinsky had bowed out of his
contract option, Mr. Sayegh was able to renew talks with
United Artists about purchasing the theater.
Mayor Jardim said he was
"cautiously optimistic" about the latest
upswing in the Rialto Theatre saga, "but given the
history of this thing you never know what can
happen." Concerning Mr. Sayeghs background,
the Mayor acknowledged that "hes a well-known
theater operator, the economics are right and hes
going to renovate it."
Last year, Mr. Carlinsky, who
said he had been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement
with a movie operator to lease the building as a theater,
had attempted to negotiate a lease with The Gap, Inc. to
open a Banana Republic store on the site. Westfield
residents protested the plan with letters and telephone
calls to The Gaps San Francisco headquarters,
urging the clothing chain not to convert the cherished
theater into retail.
The "Save the Rialto"
Committee, organized through Westfield MainStreet,
utlized the collective expertise of many local volunteers
to investigate ways of preserving the theater, which
supporters maintained is still economically viable. The
Gap, Inc. eventually withdrew plans for a store in
response to public pressure, and the committee continued
to meet periodically with Mr. Carlinsky to discuss
development proposals for the Rialto, including one which
called for a combination of retail and a movie theater in
The developer, who had received
several extensions on his purchase deadline since
October, revealed on February 4 that he had bowed out of
his option with United Artists. He told "Save the
Rialto" members that he was not agreeable to United
Artists terms. The committee members had then
planned to work directly with United Artists in helping
to acquire a buyer for the Rialto who would be willing to
keep a theater on the premises.
Discussing his anticipated
strategy for competing with multiplexes like the Sony
Theatres 10-plex on Route 22, East, in Mountainside, Mr.
Sayegh explained that theaters such as the Rialto and the
Bellvue offer patrons the comfort and convenience of
being able to see a movie in their own neighborhood
"Mothers can leave their children for a couple of
hours," he observed. "You also have mature
people who dont want to stand in long lines or to
travel out onto the highway."
Another incentive for
moviegoers to choose the local theater, according to Mr.
Sayegh, would be that while mall theaters and multiplexes
typically concentrate on the youth market, the Rialto
would continue to present fare for all ages, including
independent films such as The English
Patient, which is currently playing
at the Rialto. He
said that in the future the theater may also show foreign
features in addition to its mainstream offerings to
attract an even wider audience.
David Owens, a local
businessman and one of the principals of the "Save
the Rialto" movement, predicted that under its new
ownership, the theater could become a "real
showplace." He emphasized during the press
conference, however, that the community still needs to
give Mr. Sayegh "the support to make this thing work
just by going to the movies." He proposed that
businesses in the downtown also could encourage people to
patronize the Rialto through cross-promotional offers.
Former Mayor Boothe commented
that the "Save the Rialto" Committee deserved
"a lot of credit" for keeping the
theaters cause alive, and compared residents
resolve to the "Stop the Mall" campaign of 15
years ago, when townspeople successfully argued against
construction of a mall on 18 acres of property along
Route No. 22 on the border between Westfield and
Editors Note: See related
articles in the Archives.