Shops near Community Theater could be affected by restoration efforts
FAIRFIELD — On the window of Barber Serville, an establishment that has stood at 1426 Post Road for more than half a century, there is a faded Westport magazine that dates back to 2000.
“Mom & Pop No More: How can small businesses succeed against the chaining of Fairfield Center?” the article, with a picture of the barber shop in the middle, reads.
“I believe making that frame bought us 19 years” said Paul Smith, a barber who has worked at the shop for 30 years.
Some of the shops abutting and part of the Community Theatre property — which is currently being acquired by Kleban Properties — are worried about how plans to bring the theater back to life might affect their businesses.
These include Park Lane Opticians, Barber Serville, the Old Post Tavern, No. 299 and Fresh Flower Bar.
The theater, whose slightly broken marquee still displays a lease sign, first opened its doors in 1920 and has been shut down for the past eight years. A yellowed poster for “Mountain Film” on tour from October 2011 is still on display on a “Now Showing” sign.
In the recent weeks, Ken Kleban, president of the eponymous property company, and representatives of Sacred Heart University have announced long-term efforts to revive the theater as soon as next spring or summer.
But those efforts have nearby shop owners concerned.
Joe Vaccarella, who has been at the barber shop in 1965, said Kleban Properties told them they would need to vacate their current spot later this year and had been offered space for rent at the company’s other properties in town.
“We were kind of for the movie theater, but we didn’t know that it would take our job away,” Smith said.
For No. 299, a home decor shop adjacent to the theater at 11 Unquowa Road, the concern is also palpable.
“Sadly, most of my customers come in talking about how great it is that the theater will be renovated and re-opened,” Jackie Fucigna, owner of the shop, said. “But when they hear I don’t actually know if I, or any of us in the building, will be able to stay, they get angry.”
Fucigna said that the company had told her she could remain in place until the end of the year. “Anything after that is uncertain,” Fucigna said.
Kleban said that the company had spoken with the tenants in the property with offers to relocate to other downtown areas.
“Since our development plans have yet to be finalized, we do not yet know how all of the tenants may be affected,” Kleban said via email. “However, we have begun conversations with those that we do know will be affected and are offering them comparable or better spaces in our other downtown properties.”
Kleban Properties owns and manages properties in Connecticut, Alabama, Louisiana and other states. In Fairfield, they have the Brick Walk, Rings end Plaza, the Fairfield Center Building, Turnpike Shopping Center and others listed under their properties.
In follow-up questions regarding construction and how tenants would be affected, Kleban said that “we do not know our final development plans so I cannot answer those questions yet.”
Kleban has said that the acquisition of the theater building would come at an estimated $3.85 million and the university would sign a 10-year lease to turn the site into a venue for lectures and performances open to the entire community.
According to Kleban, renovation of the theater would be expected to cost around $4 million. Property records show that the 1410 Post Road locale was bought by Norman Pollack in 1976 and then by David Pollack in 2002. According to a 2017 valuation, the property was appraised at $2.6 million.
Over at Park Lane Opticians, east of the barber shop, John Zadravecz, a licensed optician, said he wasn’t sure what was going to happen with the store as the absentee owner was the one that would most likely be in touch with the Klebans.
“We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Zadravecz, who has worked at the shop for more than 30 years, said.
Sarah O’Brien, owner of Fresh Flower Bar, a flower shop that shares space with No. 299, said that they had been told they would stay until something changes.
“I really love being a part of downtown Fairfield,” O’Brien, who moved in at the location in May 1 of last year in her first business venture, said. “I’ve been blown away by how wonderful the customers are.”
Patrick Tennaro, the owner of the Old Post Tavern, has said at a public meeting that he and Kleban had reached a deal regarding the lease of the patio, asking that if the contract between the town and Kleban were to fail, the patio could return under the restaurant’s lease.