BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Droves of Sunnyside residents, from natives to new neighbors, gathered outside their community movie theater on Sunday to say, “we stand, the cinema stays.”
The rally was held in solidarity with Sunnyside Center Cinemas following property owner John Ciafone’s decision not to renew the theater’s lease, in order to tear down the building and develop the property.
Ciafone intends to lease the air rights above the first floor, keeping ownership of the ground floor retail. He has said he wants to work with a developer who will provide affordable housing, while Modern Spaces executive vice president Evan Daniel, who is marketing the site, has said that he envisions luxury units going up there.
Ciafone has since said he is willing to negotiate with cinema owner Rudy Prashad to reinstall a theater in the new development. He also extended the move out date six months from the original January deadline, which Prashad refused.
“My bag is pretty much at my front step ready to walk out … and then 6 months from now I’ll have to do the same thing,” Prashad explained.
Rally organizers Ty Sullivan and Pastor Jon Storck were adamant that their goal was not to promote “an anti-landlord situation,” but rather to open a dialogue to negotiate keeping the theater, before any new construction goes up.
“We want the landlord to know that we are a family here in Sunnyside,” Storck said. “If you’re coming in, we want you to be part of the family, but you need to get to know us, too.”
In a conversation with the Queens Tribune, Ciafone did not dismiss the possibility of meeting with Prashad before demolition.
Sunnyside native Barbara Younger said the first movie she ever saw was at Sunnyside Center Cinemas. She added that she has since spent birthdays and special occasions there and now brings her young daughters to the theater.
“If this has to close, if the center’s gone, I’ll be heartbroken,” Younger said.
Bryant Pritchett and Kristen Ritter said they moved to the area about six years ago and have enjoyed Sunnyside’s “good vibe,” which the theater takes part in.
“Not every place has a neighborhood movie theater, so it’d be sad it see it go,” Pritchett said. Ritter noted that they have met new friends by chatting in the theater before showtime.
The rally itself embodied this friendly, community-oriented environment. Local band Fish Detective provided live music between speeches, and resident Spatz Donovan performed impressions of famous actors who have graced Sunnyside Center Cinema’s screens throughout the decades.
For his part, Prashad said he was “extremely happy” with the community support.
“So many people love this community and love this cinema and I hope the landlord may have a change in heart,” Prashad said.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.