04/22/14 4:54pm
An orange sign on the locked door of Blue Agave Mexican Grill announcing that the restaurant was seized Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

An orange sign on the locked door of Blue Agave Mexican Grill announcing that the restaurant was seized Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

State tax officials shut down an East Main Street burrito joint Tuesday afternoon for failing to pay thousands of dollars in state sales taxes — but the restaurant’s owner told the News-Review he’s going to pay back the state Department of Taxation and Finance and that the eatery won’t be closed for long.

“I’m working with them now, and it’s going to be reopened definitely next week,” owner Ken Loo said.

The doors of Blue Agave Mexican Grill, which opened in 2012 and had, of late, only accepted cash payments, were locked Tuesday afternoon. Customers were greeted by multiple bright orange signs informing them that the property had been “seized for nonpayment of taxes and is now in the possession of New York State.”

According to the state tax warrant system, five tax liens have been filed against the restaurant since 2012, four of which are current — totaling $13,804. A New York State Tax Assessment spokesperson said that, in order for the restaurant to reopen, Mr. Loo will need to pay a total of $8,187 for nonpayments from 2013.

Mr. Loo — who also runs the sushi restaurant Haiku out of the same East Main Street building as Blue Agave as well as the Hy Ting Chinese restaurant on West Main Street — said he had to focus his attention on the Birchwood restaurant after his brother James, who owned and operated the Polish Town bar, died suddenly in January.

Mr. Loo said he discovered Birchwood was five weeks behind on payroll.

“I had to pay those guys,” he said. “A lot of things I can live with, like owing the state money. But I can’t owe people that have been working there for 30 years and not give them their paychecks.”

In addition to the money owed from Blue Agave, two liens totaling $13,659 were filed against Hy Ting and one for $14,149 was filed against Haiku, according to state records.

Mr. Loo said he had been in the process of paying for the taxes owed by Hy Ting and Haiku, and had a year to pay off the Blue Agave’s lien, but instead chose to use the money at Birchwood to “keep it afloat.”

When the deadline for Blue Agave’s payments came and went, the state stepped in.

Finding that tax agents had seized the restaurant and changed the locks was no surprise, Mr. Loo said.

“They change the locks and, when you give them the money, they give you the key,” he said.

He told the News-Review he would pay the state taxes in full to reopen the restaurant and was confident that, despite a “brutal” winter, the eatery would survive.

“I don’t want to see that place go,” he said. “It’s going to be open again … All three are still going to be there.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

03/25/14 12:00pm
03/25/2014 12:00 PM
Riverhead Suffolk Theater

The Suffolk Theater on East Main Street. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

An ‘open house’ scheduled downtown for tomorrow night about the use of over $600,000 in grant funding has switched locations, from the space where the farmers market is held at 117 E. Main St. to the Suffolk Theater.  (more…)

03/20/14 8:00am
03/20/2014 8:00 AM

A downtown sidewalk on East Main Street in need of repair. The state Department of Transportation is expected to start repairing and replacing the sidewalks this spring. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Before long, you’ll be able to take a stroll downtown without tripping over uneven sidewalks.

The highly anticipated downtown Riverhead sidewalk repairs will begin this spring and should be completed before the end of the year, according to the state Department of Transportation.  (more…)

03/16/14 11:21am
03/16/2014 11:21 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | East Main Street looking west near the theater.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | East Main Street looking west near the theater.

A week from Wednesday, a community meeting will be held to gain feedback from members of the public as the town puts a state grant to use aiming to revitalize distressed parcels in the downtown Riverhead area.

Riverhead earned about $600,000 in a Brownfield Opportunity Area grant in 2011, which were given to 21 communities statewide in order to “revitalize communities, create jobs, support environmental remediation and expand the tax base in distressed neighborhoods that have been adversely affected by multiple brownfield sites.” (more…)

03/09/14 7:00am
03/09/2014 7:00 AM
Cindy Clifford (from left), Diane Tucci, Debbie Slevin and Megan Heckman sharing a piece of apple crumble pie at the Riverhead Diner and Grill before ordering their breakfast Monday morning. (Barbaraellen Koch Photo)

Cindy Clifford (from left) and Diane Tucci of Riverhead, Debbie Slevin of Hampton Bays and Megan Heckman of Eastport came up with the idea for the Apron Strings Project while having breakfast one morning in Riverhead. (Barbaraellen Koch Photo)

The team of East End women behind the very unique Apron Strings Project will host auditions for the production March 21-22 in Riverhead. (more…)

03/02/14 1:00pm
03/02/2014 1:00 PM
The corner of Roanoke Avenue and East Main Street downtown. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The corner of Roanoke Avenue and East Main Street downtown. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Sixty-nine percent of people say they eat out when they are in downtown Riverhead and 42 percent say they walk along the river.

Those were among the results of a Downtown Riverhead Revitalization Survey to which 812 people responded last fall as part of a study of the downtown area. The survey was conducted in conjunction with a $610,000 Brownfi elds Area Opportunity (BOA) grant the town received from New York State to explore ways to improve traffi c and redevelop a section of Main Street stretching from West Main Street near Forge Road to East Main Street near Fairway Avenue.

The Riverhead Town Board discussed the study at its Thursday work session with representatives from consulting fi rm Nelson Pope and Voorhis and Sustainable Long Island, which are working together on the study.

“This input will help defi ne a vision statement for the study area and provide input for redevelopment scenarios,” said Amy Engel, executive director of Sustainable Long Island.

The study includes a recommendation to make Peconic Avenue a north-only road leading into downtown Riverhead.

In addition to eating and walking along the river, the survey, delivered mostly online, listed a number of other choices people could make in completing the sentence, “When in downtown Riverhead , I usually …” Those options included going shopping, selected by 39 percent, according to Ms. Engel, attending outdoor events (38 percent), going to a pub or tavern, visiting attractions and visiting family or friends (28 percent each) and attending live music or theater (22 percent).

When asked what they wished there were more of in downtown Riverhead, the respondents’ top answer was “unique shops,” at 65 percent, followed by cafes or coffee shops (54 percent), entertainment (50 percent), restaurants (43 percent), family-friendly activities (41 percent) and better sidewalks and paths (37 percent).

A footbridge over the Peconic River, something Southampton Town officials are working on for Riverside, was mentioned by 26 percent of the respondents.

Thirty-fi ve percent said they usually spend between $20 and $50 when they’re in the downtown area, while 30 percent spent between $50 and $100 and 16 percent spent more than $100.

And what do they spend that money on? Meals was the top answer, at 86 percent, followed by snacks or beverages at 48 percent, merchandise, at 46 percent, and admissions, at 26 percent.

So just who are these 812 survey respondents? Fifty-three percent were residents of Riverhead hamlet. Of the total, 22 percent said they are in Riverhead every day and 20 percent said they are in Riverhead about once a week, Ms. Engel said. Forty-eight percent of respondents are between 35 and 54 years old; 40 percent were older than 55.

The BOA grant survey also looked at census information from River-head and neighboring areas.

That data revealed a median household income of $50,824 for 2013 in the Riverhead Census Designation Place, which runs roughly from Osborn Avenue and Mill Road on the west to County Road 105 on the east.

People within what the survey called a “primary shopping area” — those within a 15-minute drive of downtown Riverhead — had a median household income of $73,440 for 2013. Those within a “secondary shopping area” — a 30-minute drive, but also including all of Southold and Shelter Island towns — had a 2013 median income of $79,587.

“I think Riverhead has a lower median income now for a different reason than it did in the past,” Supervisor Sean Walter said. “Now, I think the median income is low because we have a large senior citizen population and they are on a fi xed income.”

The BOA study also identified some types of businesses that the Riverhead area needs, including specialty food stores, book and music stores, furniture stores, auto parts stores and fl orists.

“Riverhead is unique, so the traditional retail gap analysis of the 15- and 30-minute drive time may not tell the whole picture,” consultant Charles Voorhis said. “One of the reasons spending is high is because you have Route 58.”

Mr. Voorhis said Route 58 provides things customers “need” while downtown has the opportunity to provide things costumers “want.”

Offi cials said town plans to hold the fi rst of two open house forums on the BOA study later this month to get more feedback from the public. The consultants hope to have a second public forum in the fall to release their recommendations.

tgannon@timesreview.com