The owners of The Emporium in Patchogue Village are looking to divide the music and dance hall on Railroad Avenue in order to open up an 88-seat steakhouse-style restaurant.
The owners say the cashflow from a restaurant that’s open seven days a week would allow them to get away from large, national acts that currently drive their business, and shift the focus more toward booking catered affairs and smaller shows.
“This is a massive building. The nightclub industry is fading and we want to keep up with the times,” explained Vince Trimarco, a Smithtown attorney who co-owns The Emporium, which opened in September 2012.
Trimarco and fellow owner Tim Lorito were speaking before the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday night in Village Hall, where the men presented a rough outline of their building plans.
But the zoning board on Wednesday was — and still is — reviewing The Emporium’s application for the renewal of a year-to-year special permit that allows the business to operate as a cabaret. The plans for the restaurant and renovations go before the village Planning Board April 26.
Because of this, the ZBA put off any ruling on the permit renewal until after the other board acts.
The hearing and restaurant plans all comes less than six weeks after rapper Stew Deez, who was on a national tour with the famed rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, was arrested for allegedly firing shots into the air after an Emporium performance.
There had also been a string of other, albeit less-high profile, reported incidents and arrests at the club in recent months.
ZBA attorney Ernest Maler called the shots being fired “embarrassing for the village.”
“It’s embarrassing for me as a business owner,” Lorito said, adding he’s also negatively effected, especially on the side of the business where The Emporium is trying to book family parties.
Trimarco pointed out the incident happened after hours, outside The Emporium and that it was a performer, not a patron, who been accused of firing the shots. Also, he said, it was Emporium cameras — there are now 42 of them — that aided police in arresting the rapper, whose real name is Steward Howse, 33, of Cleveland, Ohio.
Several residents also came to the board with harsh criticism of The Emporium, although all but one stopped short of urging the board to deny the special permit renewal.
Oscar Coellar, who owns a home with his wife and extended family on Church Street, where the couple has lived since 1998, says noise, urination, sexual activity and drunkenness are incessant problems. He seemed to pin most of the blame on The Emporium.
“I’m not saying it has to be closed down,” he said. “I’m just saying it has to be better controlled. It’s the outside of the building that’s a nightmare. You should be coming one night and see what’s going on after the party is over. They may improve the inside, but that doesn’t give any more safety for the people [living nearby]. One of those bullets could have gone through my window and maybe I’m not here, or maybe one of my kids is not here, or one of my neighbors.”
A back-and-forth then took place between The Emporium owners and the board members — as well as members of the public — as to whether it’s actually Emporium patrons causing the bulk of the trouble, or just village bar- and club-goers overall.
Frank Bania, founder to the Boots on the Ground NY military support group, bestowed praise on The Emporium owners, whom he called friends, for hosting huge fundraisers for his group to help soldiers and vets.
He also says he works security at night in Patchogue, and insisted a bulk of the nighttime and early morning troubles in the village, from assaults, to public urination, can be attributed to the smaller bars.
“I just feel they’re getting a bad rap,” he said of The Emporium.
As for the restaurant plans, Lorito noted that when The Emporium opened in September 2012, there was a restaurant component — as well as a bowling alley — but it didn’t work well having diners in the middle of the room while the bands were getting underway.
“We would have to try to get dinner out early and the people out of their seats,” he said.
Also under the new plan, the music venue would hold close to 800, instead of the current 1,100 people.
“We weren’t making efficient use of the space,” Trimarco added. “This is a massing building. What we built is just becoming outdated. The nightclub industry has dwindled to almost nothing. We’re probably the only place in Nassau or Suffolk County of its size that calls itself a nightclub. We want to get away from that.”
Photo: A rendering of where people would enter the new restaurant at the existing Emporium.