The state of “progress” in downtown Riverhead is often discussed but hard to pin down: crime rears its head now and again, vacant storefronts still dot Main Street and a short drive to the railroad station area — or even the Main Street area — at any time of year can reveal a homeless population living in the shadows.
On the other hand, it would be disingenuous to discount some of the anchor projects that have come to Main Street in recent years and subsequently drawn other businesses and investments to town. The Suffolk Theater, Summerwind and Woolworth renovation projects all come to mind. Smaller shops like Vines & Hops, Peconic Ballet Theatre and the relocated Twin Forks Bicycles didn’t arrive by coincidence, either. A few new eateries will also open their doors soon: PeraBell, Mazi and Sonoma. All will occupy spaces that previously held restaurants, but the reinvestment of capital in the area signals yet more optimism.
So there are arguments, one could say, to be had on both sides of the state of downtown. It’s not as if Riverhead has ever really been a complete ghost town. Let’s not forget businesses that have operated on Main Street for years — the Long Island Aquarium, Digger’s, Barth’s Drug Store or the Riverhead Diner & Grill.
It’s been said for many years that the future of Riverhead looks bright, and that may be true now more than ever. The results of a $571,000 grant are starting to show. A study that is expected to be complete later this year has made some suggestions that could enhance downtown’s future — namely a traffic reconfiguration and a reduction in the number of residential units downtown.
While feet on the street are a must to make any downtown vibrant, we must not forget that the town must keep the health of the Peconic River in mind as well. The town is, after all, named after it, so while downtown development continues, being good stewards should also present a welcome challenge to town leaders.
Though the Brownfields Opportunity Area grant was awarded four years ago, it still has the opportunity to open future doors as Riverhead continues its walk toward revitalization. We look forward to seeing which doors open up.