Downtown Wading River sees a major resurgence

downtown wading river

Jason and Samantha Nagorski see opportunity in downtown Wading River.

The couple recently opened R.E.N. Design Company in the long vacant Wading River Garage. The arrival of R.E.N — along with North Tavern, soon to open in the former Amarelle restaurant space — marks the first time in nearly two decades that all storefronts in the historic business district are occupied. 

“We’re happy to come here as a young couple that is interested in investing in the area,” said Mr. Nagorski. “We tried to turn this building into a place where people can enjoy going.”

The couple signed the lease on the 2,300-square-foot space in October and got to work transforming the old garage. R.E.N. Design Company offers one-of-a-kind home accents and made-to-order furniture handcrafted by the Nagorskis.  The building had been essentially vacant since 2000, after the longtime garage owner, Bob Boenig, retired.

“The building is historic and it’s an important piece of downtown Wading River,” said Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association. “It is positive for the community.”

Business owners there said they were attracted to the quaint atmosphere the downtown area offers. Its location off-the-beaten path location adds to its charm yet contributes to slow foot traffic. 

Jason and Samantha Nagorski opened R.E.N. Design Co. earlier this year. (Cyndi Murray photo)

The once vibrant commercial district suffered a series of setbacks that caused many businesses to shutter in recent decades. In 1992, according to a previous News-Review report, then-Riverhead supervisor Joe Janoski said the arrival of King Kullen on Route 25A in the 1970s discouraged people from shopping downtown. Foot traffic continued to drop off through the ’90s when the local post office across from the Duck Ponds moved to Route 25A.

The now fully occupied bank of Sound Road storefronts also includes North Fork Bacon & Smokehouse, My Creperie, retail shop Frog Lady, jewelry store Bellisimo Luxe and a café, Brekky, which opened last year.

Across the street, Tex-Mex restaurant Mesquite is celebrating four years in business and North Tavern has moved into the former Amarelle, which closed in 2013. The 3,740-square-foot space sat vacant for three years until Fiesta Mexicana opened there in early 2016, It has since closed and the owners of North Tavern are renovating it as a causal American eatery.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” said owner and operator Carol Wendelken, who expects to open in the coming weeks. “This is a gem of an area. We’re here to enhance Wading River.”

Lisa Donnelly, owner of Bellisimo Luxe, is optimistic the new furniture shop and restaurant will continue to drive people downtown.

“This is my first spring and summer in business and I really hope that all the stores being occupied will allow more people to find us,” Ms. Donnelly said. “Some people don’t know where the Duck Ponds are — even locals. The community is so wonderful. I hope to see more people here now.”

The area has been slowly growing since 2014, when TJ Realty Investment — which also owns the area’s iconic Red Barn — bought the building where the Pizza Pie and General Store had operated. North Fork Bacon & Smokehouse opened that April in the former pizza joint on the northwest corner of Sound Road and My Creperie signed a lease for the space next door that June.

“We helped bring a bite to this corner,” said My Creperie owner Rob Nasta. “There are more and more people taking note of this area. It’s growing — it’s nice to see every store occupied.”

TJ Realty Investment CEO Tim Martin later purchased the adjoining building, the former Wading River Garage, and patiently waited for the right tenant. Mr. Martin couldn’t be reached for comment, but previously told the News-Review: “It’s all about the tenants … I’m just trying to make it look nice.”

“We’ve known [Martin] for a while now; that is how we found the space,” Mr. Nagorski said. “It is right across the street from where we live and we thought it was perfect.”

The storefront now functions as both a workshop and retail space.

At R.E.N. Design, Mr. Nagorski makes everything from dining room tables to barn doors using a mix of reclaimed and new wood. The pieces are then stained or distressed to fit the client’s aesthetic.

“I always wanted to have a store where I could sell my furniture — this is a dream,” he said. “Our clients find us and we work together to create custom pieces. People like custom. You can’t go to Ikea and get anything like it.” 

Ms. Nagorski’s work is on display throughout the retail space, greeting customers as soon as they pass through the original garage door. Her hand-painted signs, reading “Welcome” and “Fresh Produce,” sit beside rustic planters and mason jar candles.

“Farmhouse is the most popular, but we have pieces that incorporate all styles,” she said. “We want the business to grow and stay current, so, we want to include things everyone enjoys.” 

R.E.N. Design also hosts regular craft nights for the community, where people can make their own painted wood pallet signs or holiday décor. 

“It will be nice to see the downtown area thriving again,” Mr. Bail said. “It is a welcomed trend.”

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Photo caption: Sound Road in Wading River. (Cyndi Murray photo)