The iconic Capitol Theatre of Port Chester, NY reopened in 2012, stirring a revitalization of entertainment for both the venue and its village. The village of Port Chester, about 25 miles up the coast from New York City, has seen substantial growth in the past few years partially in thanks to the renovations of the Capitol Theatre and the clientele it attracts.
“The Mayor and the trustees of the village of Port Chester give us a lot of credit for helping to promote growth in the village by bringing in a lot of revenue,” said Capitol Theatre Manager Tom Bailey. “People will come in and go out to dinner before the show. Maybe spend money at the stores while they are in town. I’d like to think that we are contributing substantially to the growth of Port Chester by having this venue here.”
The 1,800-cap venue was originally built in the 1920s as a vaudeville house and movie theater. It fell into disuse until the 1970s when it saw rejuvenation as a concert venue.
“All kinds of amazing acts came through here,” Bailey explained. “The Grateful Dead played something like 18 times. Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin played her third to last show here in 1970. But by the time the 80s rolled around the theater was seeing less and less use.”
In 2010, Bailey who was working at New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club, got a call informing him that concert promoter Peter Shapiro wanted to open a new venue and the two signed a long-term lease for the Capitol Theatre in 2011.
“From March to September 2012 we installed brand new lighting equipment, we did acoustic treatments to the walls to make it sound as good as possible in here, we carpeted the venue. We took all the seats out and reupholstered them,” Bailey told Amplify. “Shapiro’s term for what he wanted was a ‘rock’ n’ roll palace.’ That was the vision under which we made the renovations.”
The renovations also included custom designed carpets and wallpaper that features artists who had played the theater in the past, a list that includes The Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Santana, and David Bowie.
The theater reopened on Sept. 4, 2012 with a performance by Bob Dylan.
During renovations, the theater installed advanced audio and lighting that would be as good as if not better than most tours to avoid the loading and unloading of gear, saving costs for the venue, performers, and ultimately attendees.
The Capitol has to remain competitive with venues in the surrounding areas including Manhattan and Connecticut but benefits greatly from the Metro North train line that is directly across the street.
“We’re close enough to Connecticut that we get people from Stanford and Greenwich and we also get people from New York,” Bailey explained. “We’ve found people really like to travel to come here. And we’re really not that far away from the city so when we have a big show, people will come up by train from Manhattan and the five boroughs as well.”
“It’s a very competitive market here in New York. We really try to run the gamut in different musical styles and tastes,” Bailey said. “We find that different audiences come from different locations. I don’t think it is fair to say our principal audience comes from one place. In general, people come from 90-100 miles around this area.”
The Capitol has seen artists from Yo Gabba Gabba! to Steely Dan, five shows with Wilco and last Friday Bon Iver performed.
For the past four years, the theater has tried to accommodate audiences from nearby destinations, but also appeal to the growing population of Port Chester.
“What we’re seeing is that Port Chester is in fact growing quite rapidly. There’s a couple of reasons for that. One is that it is right on the train line. Two is that it is a much more affordable city in which to live,” Bailey said.
The village located between Rye, N.Y, and Greenwich, Conn. has seen a lot of development in the past few years and has begun building more affordable housing than its neighbors.
“There are a lot of new developments here. In the past three years, several new apartment complexes have been built and there are a ton of restaurants in Port Chester,” said Bailey, adding “It is sort of positioned to be an entertainment capital and knowing that this venue has been here for so long being underutilized is one of the main reasons we wanted to come here in the first place.”
“We see people that come to Port Chester to see a concert and they tell me they moved to Rye because it is only two miles away from the Capitol Theater. That’s a flattering thing.”
The Capitol has not only brought business and denizens to Port Chester, but it has also made an effort to support the community.
“We do all kinds of things with the village of Port Chester and the town of Rye. When the schools want to put on a show that describes the history of Port Chester, we allow them to do it here at the Capitol for free or at our cost,” Bailey said. “I was just speaking with the superintendent of schools who wants to set up something to commemorate Martin Luther King Day next month so we are working with them on that. We always try to give back to the community as much as possible.”
They also put on events for animal rescue groups, charities, and private events.
For the fifth anniversary of the Capitol’s reopening next year, Bailey and Shapiro have planned to expand within the building. They intend to have a new VIP room and other rooms for private events.
Bailey explained, “We want to build a food service operation for patrons because we don’t have a lot of food offerings and we want to integrate all of this into more of a complex so that we have places to do all of these things.”