John Storck, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church at 46-01 43rd Avenue, became involved in trying to save the Queens Boulevard theater as soon as he caught wind that Sunnyside Center Cinemas was in danger of closing.
So far, he and his concerned fellow Sunnysiders have collected over 1,000 signatures in an online petition. At the rally on Sunday, he collected roughly 300 more.
“We’ve got to do something,” Storck said. “Right now, we’re focused on trying to continue the dialogue. We heard here today that [landlord] Mr. [John] Ciafone was very much interested in renegotiating. We'd like to see that before any new construction begins.”
Two years ago, when Sunnyside Cinemas owner Rudy Prashad was in the midst of negotiating a new 10 to 20-year lease with Dime Savings Bank, he said the property was sold right out from under him.
“I would never have invested $700,000 into this building if I knew it was being sold,” Prashad said. “About three years ago, I installed digital projectors, a brand new silver screen and a new sound system. It was a complete upgrade.”
John Siscaretti, 51, was born and raised in Sunnyside, and said that for him the theater holds a lot of personal importance.
“I saw my first movie here, The Jungle Book, [and] my first R-rated movie, Saturday Night Fever,” Siscaretti said. “I used to come here with my parents, who are no longer alive, and with childhood friends growing up.”
Siscaretti said he doesn’t see why Ciafone can’t just leave the cinema in place and build up around it.
“There's nothing wrong with it,” he said. “Why not build up and around an existing theater?”
Blue Cumba said that while she no longer lives in Sunnyside, she attended the rally to save the cinema because her son Kris and his friends basically grew up there.
“From first to eighth grade, Kris had all of his birthday parties there, and so did all of his friends,” Cumba said. “Nobody had to travel and all the parents knew it was safe for their kids.”
Richard Mazda, founder of the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, said that after recently completing a fundraising drive to help keep his own establishment in place, he had to come out to show support for the cinema.
“American culture has been one of the best ambassadors for what is great about America,” Mazda said. “There are already not enough cultural institutions in Sunnyside, it would be a tragedy to lose this one, too.”
Prashad said that while Ciafone did offer him a six-month extension on his current lease, which will end in January, it comes with too costly a price tag.
“He wants an extra $7,000 per month rent, plus taxes,” he said. “And what happens after six months?”
Still, if Ciafone is willing to negotiate a lease in the new development when construction is complete in two to three years, Prashad is willing to come back to the location.
“I am hoping he's willing to sit down and sign a lease,” Prashad said. “If that is so I would love to be here and run a cinema here.”