Groucho Marx once said there is “dicta” and there is “contradicta.” I fear the Equal Time column written by Anthony Coates (“Negativity isn’t helping efforts downtown,” Sept. 9) may have blurred one with the other. Since he is a former weekly newspaper editor, I should have found that surprising — but he is an adviser to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, so I expected it.
I read the Sept. 2 letter my father wrote to the newspaper a second time just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. First, it is a fact that simply having events in downtown Riverhead will not, in and of themselves, revitalize the business district. Were that true, we would have been prospering long ago. So there’s no negative there, just a simple statement of fact. Second, my father ultimately suggested that the Town of Riverhead, Chamber of Commerce and BID Management Association develop a coordinated effort to revitalize Main Street. Here again, not negative but a suggestion that has merit. After all, we really haven’t come all that far along in bringing prosperity to Main Street. Perhaps it is time to review the strategy. And I would hasten to add that while Rome wasn’t built in a day, it didn’t take 30 years, either. In fact, Greenport was able to revitalize itself in less than 10 years.
I have been at WRIV Radio since 1979. My father and I have owned it since 1987. While Mr. Coates was the editor of a weekly newspaper in Port Jefferson, we were active participants in numerous organizations devoted to revitalizing Main Street, Riverhead, from the Chamber of Commerce to the Downtown Merchants Association, the Eyes on Riverhead campaign and the BID Management Association. Long before there was a Riverhead Blues Festival, WRIV Radio brought a jazz concert to the lawn of the East End Arts Council with the News-Review. We promote the Riverhead Country Fair and broadcast live from it every year. We did a lunch at Grangebel Park event with then-Supervisor Joe Janoski and did a walking tour of the park broadcast with then-Supervisor Jim Stark. We have a long record of involvement with revitalization efforts in downtown Riverhead that we are quite proud of.
The issue is not whether we can draw crowds to Main Street. We did when we brought Mose Allison to town with the News-Review. Crowds came for Sidewalk Sale days and numerous other events. Unfortunately, we have never been able to keep them coming back. Again, that is not being negative. That is stating a fact. And while Mr. Coates writes a lecture on how you revitalize downtown Riverhead, he forgets that restoration of the historic Vail-Leavitt Music Hall was falling by the wayside until my father got involved. The restored Music Hall reopened in less than a year after he rolled up his sleeves and went to work on it. When others were wringing their hands in resignation, he went to work. When others said it couldn’t be done, he proved it could. A restored and reopened Suffolk Theatre combined with the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall could make downtown Riverhead an entertainment destination.
As one who has been here for 30 years, I can assure you that the decline of our business district did not begin in 2004 when Phil Cardinale took office. Its roots go back to the 1970’s, when the last supermarket left Main Street. That building became Town Hall. This decline reached critical mass when Swezey’s Department Stores closed. While we are happy to see a new store open and another remain in downtown Riverhead, we are not seeing the store fronts that have been vacant for years get filled. That may have been the biggest reason why the downtown summit of several months ago was such a huge disappointment. Where businesses were looking for a concrete plan, there was none. Here again, not being negative … just stating a fact.
We at WRIV Radio fully expect to be in the crosshairs when we point out the differences between campaign promises and actual results. We also expect to be a target when the public uses access to the airwaves to express opinions that are contrary to ones of those in office. To say that we have not used this radio station to help in revitalizing downtown Riverhead is to deny history.
Humor is in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective and what some consider funny or at least humorous, others do not. Therefore, I am not going to debate the issue. Since the days of servants, serfs and slaves it has been fashionable to shoot the messenger rather than address the message. This time, the messenger is WRIV Radio, the only traditional media left in Riverhead town and one of the longest established businesses in downtown Riverhead. It is truly unsettling that the adviser to the supervisor, who is a BID Management Association Director and lives in downtown Riverhead would try to limit the discussion to those who agree with him and play fast and loose with the facts. And that’s not being negative, either. That’s just telling the truth.
Mr. Tria is a Quogue resident and co-owner of WRIV 1390 AM radio on East Main Street.