By ERIN ROLL
The Bellevue Theatre may yet get an encore within the next few months.
But that all depends on the outcome of a few meetings with a group of interested business people.
Jesse Sayegh, the Bellevue’s owner, has been meeting with movie theater operators and business people to find a new tenant interested in operating the Bellevue as a movie theater. The Bellevue has been closed since November, after then-tenant Bow Tie Cinemas decided not to renew its lease.
The goal is to get the Bellevue reopened as a movie theater, and to run it in a way that works from a business standpoint.
“Right now, what you want is someone who is sustainable,” Sayegh said in an interview at the Bellevue on Tuesday.
Sayegh said that he had met with a group of business people who had ties to the entertainment industry and that the group had presented him with a business plan for the Bellevue. The group had asked for a little more time to fine tune its business plan and to line up investors.
Sayegh said he liked what he had seen of the group’s plan, though he said he could not go into details about it because of confidentiality agreements.
If the plan goes ahead, Sayegh said, he hopes that the Bellevue would be operational again as a movie theater three or four months from that time.
“That is my hope and game plan,” Sayegh said.
The movie theater industry is in a challenging position due to changing economics and competing business.
“Where the industry is today is not where it was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” he said. Independent movie theaters have seen a great deal of competition from mall multiplexes, home videos and DVDs, Netflix and other online streaming services, and rental kiosks at grocery stores. “Everybody takes a bite out of the theater business,” he said.
Sayegh has been the owner of numerous independent movie theaters in North Jersey. He currently owns four, including the Bellevue and Caldwell Cinemas.
“I look at myself from the old school,” Sayegh said.
While working as a carpenter in Jerusalem, he did ushering work in a movie theater in the evenings and on weekends to earn extra money. Later, while working in oil fields in North Africa, there would be special screenings when a film could be brought in, and he was in charge of running the projector. He later became involved with the film industry in California, and starting in the late 1970s, he began working with and managing movie houses in Hawthorne, Linden and Madison.
Sayegh took over ownership of the Bellevue in the 1990s. The theater had fallen into disrepair in the preceding decades, due to owners and operators not keeping up with repairs and maintenance.
“I look at myself — money, yes, is important. But there’s a sense of pleasure that you provide a service, a quality service, to your clients,” he said.
The almost 100-year-old Tudor building has been a mainstay in Upper Montclair, and has also generated business for nearby eateries and shops.
In November Bow Tie Cinemas, the Bellevue’s most recent tenant, announced that its lease on the theater had expired. In response, Angelo Cifelli, Sayegh’s attorney, said that Bow Tie had been given the option to renew but had chosen not to. Bow Tie also turned down a six-figure offer to keep the theater’s furniture and equipment in place for a future tenant.
The general public did not learn of the theater’s pending closure until only a few days before the last scheduled showings on Nov. 13. On Nov. 8, word began to spread that the longtime “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screenings would be relocating to another theater. The announcement that the Bellevue was going to close sparked public outcry, with members of the community launching petitions to keep the theater open.
The theater had its last day of operations Nov. 13, and Bow Tie began removing all of the theater’s seats, projection equipment and concessions counters. As of Friday, the lobby had been completely stripped of all fixtures.
Ilmar Vanderer is the administrator of Save Montclair’s Bellevue Theater, a Facebook page dedicated to helping to preserve the theater. He is also a member of the board of trustees at the Bellevue Avenue branch of the Montclair Public Library. He reached out to Sayegh to ask for a meeting.
“My main purpose in meeting with him was to dispel any myths and rumors about the fate of the Bellevue,” Vanderer said Friday afternoon.
The meeting included a tour of the theater.
“It looked much better than I thought it would,” Vanderer said. “I think there’s definitely hope it can be resurrected.”
The Friends of Anderson Park and the Montclair History Center will be holding a special event Jan. 17 to talk about the history of the Bellevue.