Hopewell Theater to Expand as Arts Hub with Restaurant Purchase
ARTS HUB: Hopewell Theater renovations, including state-of-the-art lighting and sound, have made it an intimate space for performers. With the addition of a restaurant, new programming will be added. (Thomas Robert Clarke Photography)
By Wendy Greenberg
Hopewell Theater, the recently-revamped club-style arts hub on South Greenwood Avenue, will be able to expand its programming with the addition of a new restaurant.
Renovations on the restaurant at 7 West Broad Street, formerly The Brothers Moon, are underway. Baxter Construction has gutted the interior, and the owners are reviewing proposals from potential partners to co-create and run the restaurant. With the new space, which is scheduled to open sometime in 2020, Hopewell Theater will host “food and arts experiences,” said Hopewell Theater Co-Founder and Executive Director Sara Scully, including private events such as meet-the-artist VIP receptions, afternoon “unplugged” concerts, book signings, and readings, many in conjunction with a show.
Scully, of ScullyOne Productions, who is leading the expansion, will oversee the business development and design of the restaurant, as well as the hiring of a new executive director as she focuses on the restaurant’s needs. The theater, which re-opened in September 2017, has developed its own niche by presenting live music performances, comedy, talks, andvaried films, including first-run independent films and films for families.
Many of the performers are widely known, and some are also local, such as Hopewell’s Danielia Cotton (September 7), Princeton’s Jonah Tolchin (October 12), and Trenton’s June Ballinger, performing a one-woman show (November 15). Hopewell recently announced shows with Rogue Oliphant (words by Princeton Professor Paul Muldoon, December 14) and a holiday show with Lambertville’s Pyrenisia (December 21).
Even with the popularity of streaming services for home viewing, Scully maintains that “art is rarely meant to be experienced in isolation. When you see a live show or live music in a theater the performance builds energy in a room, there’s a dynamic with the audience and performers. You are experiencing a moment that will never happen again with other people and you are all a part of making that moment happen, even if you are in the audience.” Film, she adds, is best experienced on a big screen “and there is nothing like sharing those classics or soon-to-be classics with friends and family — hearing a room erupt in laughter or a gasp just makes the moments more memorable.”
In the two years since it was revamped, she said, “Hopewell Theater is now a thriving part of our cultural community. Our patrons have come to value it as a unique venue, as it’s a warm and welcoming place to meet friends and get inspired by selectively eclectic programs by emerging and established artists.” For performers, she said, “it’s an incredibly intimate venue for being a nearly 200-seat theater with great acoustics.”
The theater’s history dates back to 1880 when it was known as Columbia Hall, a community center that hosted community meetings on its first floor and performances on the second floor. A newer structure was known as Colonial Playhouse in the 1940s and 1950s, and it was used by the Gallup Poll Group from 1960 until 1984. The building returned to its roots as the Off-Broadstreet Theater. Sold in 2015 to Mitchel Skolnick, it underwent a substantial renovation when the ceiling was raised, a balcony was added, and the interior was revamped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems and expanded seating.
The renovation was given the 2019 award for Best Commercial Interior by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Hopewell Theater was also honored with the New Jersey Business Association’s Good Neighbor Award.
The restaurant will expand what the theater can offer, while also serving as its own dining destination. Scully envisions expanded member benefits with an “arts club option featuring perks. The restaurant’s programming, operations, and marketing will have synergy with the theater’s,” she said. The restaurant will enhance the theater’s dine-in concession menu as well as its occasional supper and brunch clubs, with a menu that is sourced locally wherever possible, and with systems that support sustainability and reduction of plastics and disposables.
Skolnick, Scully’s business partner in both the theater launch and the restaurant expansion, owns the restaurant. Skolnick and Scully own the production company that runs Hopewell Theater. Skolnick also owns the theater building with partners Jon McConnaughy and Liza Moorehouse.