Historic downtown Riverhead is located along the Peconic River where the North and South Forks meet. Originally the westernmost part of the Town of Southold, the Town of Riverhead was established on March 13, 1792. Today Riverhead is the Suffolk County seat. The Town of Riverhead encompasses 68 square miles from the Long Island Sound on the north to the Peconic River and Bay on the south and is bordered by the towns of Southold on the east, Southampton to the south, and Brookhaven on the west. Historic downtown Riverhead runs along Main Street in Riverhead and is currently undergoing a renaissance that promises to revitalize the community and its surrounding area.
While downtown Riverhead Main Street businesses weathered a difficult time of increased vacancy with the growth of the Route 58 big box commercial corridor, today all of that is changing. Vacant storefronts up and down Main Street are filling up with lots of additional future activity taking place. Downtown Riverhead is projected to become a vibrant year-round community, the likes of Patchogue, its sister city and Greenport, its seasonal counterpart.
Town Supervisor Sean Walter has been a part of the Riverhead revitalization since 2010. As he remarks, “Store by store, block by block, Riverhead will one day come together as a thriving downtown.” He reflects, “Everybody adds something to the flavor of downtown and we look forward to the next flavor coming.” Chris Kempner, Director of the Town of Riverhead Community Development Agency, is excited about all the changes happening in downtown Riverhead. She exclaims, “There’s a lot of new energy and new investment coming everyday. Riverhead is turning a corner, now is an exciting time to open a business or renovate a property downtown.”
The beautiful and historic renovation of the Suffolk Theater, originally built in 1933 in an Art Deco style, whose restoration was completed in 2013, is the centerpiece of the town. With its dazzling grand marquee, it has attracted visitors to its wonderful events in its new state-of-the-art performing arts center with its historic ambiance. Other performing arts and music venues are The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, built in 1881, located on Peconic Avenue. Vines & Hops Cafe across from the Suffolk Theater features Thursday Open Mic Nights where talented musicians get on stage to entertain.
Atlantis Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, opened in 2000, has attracted people from all over. They can now stay at the Hyatt Place, a new 100-guest room hotel with both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. In between the aquarium and the hotel is the new Long Island Exhibition Center featuring an art exhibition gallery. Also on Main Street is the East End Arts Council, located in the historic Davis-Corwin House (c. 1840) that includes an art gallery and School of the Arts. Further down on Main Street is the Long Island Science Center.
There are fantastic restaurants all throughout downtown Riverhead. Some have been there for years and others are just opening up. Last year Crooked Ladder Brewing Company, Long Island’s newest microbrewery opened up on Main Street. This past spring, Joe’s Garage and Grill opened on the Peconic waterfront featuring New American cuisine. Goldberg’s Bagels just opened its doors on Main Street in August. PeraBell Food Bar from Patchogue featuring American-Eclectic fare is planning to open its second restaurant where Cody’s BBQ & Grill used to be. Dark Horse Restaurant, owned by Dee Muma on the corner of Main Street and Peconic Avenue, opened in 2010 and features an American style French Bistro in an Art Deco ambiance. Dee’s husband Edwin Tuccio is the owner of sophisticated Tweed’s Restaurant & Buffalo Bar next door. Located in the Victorian landmark John J. Sullivan Hotel, built in 1896, it features North American plains bison from Tuccio’s 250-acre farm nearby. Many of these restaurants include local ingredients from the farms and vineyards, characteristic of the farm to table theme on the North Fork.
Manhattan commercial real estate broker Georgia Malone recently invested in Thirty West Main, renovating it into a shared office space. Several residential properties recently opened including Summerwind Square apartment complex overlooking the Peconic River, Woolworth Revitalization building where the new gym Maximus Health and Fitness moved in, and 1 East Main Street on the corner of Peconic Avenue and Main Street. A $1.5M New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) sidewalk project repaved Main Street sidewalks from Town Hall to Tanger Outlets, replacing streetlights and adding hanging floral baskets, benches, and trees.
A year-round Farmer’s Market opened on Main Street this year and was wildly successful. This past Halloween celebrated the First Annual Edgar Allan Poe Festival, a three-day event with surprise characters and events throughout downtown. Additionally, concerts, festivals, and country fairs are slated for the upcoming year along the Peconic River waterfront and the revamped Grangebel Park.
The Town of Riverhead is both the gateway to wine country on the North Fork and the ocean beaches in the Hamptons. But increasingly downtown Riverhead is coming into its own as a destination for those seeking fine culture, arts, music, dining, science, history, nature, and above all a yearning for a vibrant small town with lots of diverse activities to enjoy
Ruth Thomas, a freelance writer on the East End enjoys history, music, literature, art, nature, the beach, and her cute dachshund, Clancy. She can be contacted at [email protected]