CRANFORD, N.J. — The Cranford Theater is back in business after a two-month renovation.
The theater reopened Nov. 8 with a new lobby, seating, curtains and projectors just in time for the holiday season.
“We opened with a lot of positives,” theater owner Doreen Sayegh said in a recent interview with LocalSource. “And it makes me feel like we met the goal. The goal was to provide a theater venue that’s warm and cozy and welcoming where you feel like you’re family and you feel like you could drop your kids off. Where our senior citizens can come and have a nice warm auditorium.”
She said the newly reopened theater will host birthday parties as well as holiday-themed events and receptions.
The Cranford Theater closed in early September, about a week after the Rialto in Westfield also closed its doors, both to much local consternation but little information. Both theaters are owned by Sayegh and her father, who bought the Rialto in 1996 and the Cranford Theater in 1998. They operated both theaters until 2010, then both were operated by New Vision Theatres until they shuttered their doors for repairs. Now, Sayegh is managing the theaters.
She said that when she saw the theater after it had closed, it was in poor condition. Heating and air conditioning units needed to be replaced, garbage was left behind and there were several repairs that needed to be made. During the revamp process, construction crews spent one month renovating the space with new chairs, curtains and projectors. Sayegh stated that she was aiming for a classy, old-meets-new interior design.
The renovations were rushed in order to open the theater in time to play “The Irishman,” a new Martin-Scorsese drama about a truck driver who becomes a hitman for a Pennsylvania crime family and becomes involved with longtime Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
“We had crews working here until 2 or 3 a.m. on some nights,” Sayegh said. They turned this around in four weeks. It was unbelievable. We still have a lot to do and some bugs to work out, but for the most part, things are pretty, pretty good.”
“The amount of positivity, the support, the compliments, it’s just been overwhelming,” she said in a Nov. 14 interview. “And honestly, it was a great motivator through the whole construction process because it was around the clock.
Sayegh is adamant about looking at the future viability of her business.
“Some people, when they are looking to take over a business or a bigger entity, they’re looking at the short term. … We’re looking at the longterm. What can we do to preserve the business, the building and be sustainable.
“Nobody is going to put the care and love and take care of it like we’re going to. … Everybody is like our family. We take care of people like they’re our own.”
The Rialto, like the Cranford Theater, was also in poor condition when it closed.
“Lots of things needed a lot of repairs,” Sayegh said.
She is still in conversation with the Westfield mayor and town planners about the Rialto. “With Cranford, it was a different situation because Cranford is kind of nestled away from major competitors,” she said. “Another thing is, Cranford is an established art house. A lot of the content, a lot of the classics and foreign films you won’t find at a theater like big commercial theaters.”
But first-run, wide-release films also will come to Cranford.
“We will play some bigger titles like ‘Frozen’ because we also want to provide a theater that welcomes families with children, teenagers,” Sayegh said. “And then when a great art classic film comes, we’re going to jump all over it. We have five powerhouse movies and not enough seats to go around. So, we’re pretty set. We’re going into the holiday season.”
She is currently working on an array of different projects, including film festivals, for next year.
“Not only does it provide an experience, it helps drive business to the local area. When movie theaters close, everybody is quick to be upset … but you have to support your local theater,” Sayegh said.
She stated that when movie theaters do well, they help other businesses in town, such as restaurants and coffee shops.
“When the theater hurts, everybody hurts with it.” Sayegh said.