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Hopewell Theater closes

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Citing rising costs and the inability to obtain a liquor license, the Hopewell Theater is closing after a six-year run, executive director Sara Scully announced Tuesday night.

“Thank you to our patrons, talent, staff, and the community of Hopewell for standing with us through the years,” read a message posted on its Facebook page. “None of what we have accomplished would have been possible without you.”

While Scully and her team opened the theater in 2017, the building’s history as an arts venue dates back to the late 1800s and its owners will look to reopen it in some form.

“Hopewell Theater has been re-imagined many times over the 144 years of its existence, with significant interior and exterior design changes,” Scully said in a message on the theater’s website. “And yet, with each incarnation, the building has remained a place that has always welcomed and/or served the Hopewell community as an arts venue and gathering place.”

Under Scully’s leadership, the dine-in venue offered an eclectic mix of shows that included live music, open mic nights, supper clubs, theatrical performances, private events and films.

She led a significant interior renovation that created a multi-purpose community entertainment space within the theater’s existing footprint on South Greenwood Avenue. The project, designed by architect Robert Ceruti and executed by Baxter Construction, included a vaulted ceiling with exposed struts, a new ticket booth, a caterer’s kitchen, tiered banquets and a balcony space.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry recognized the renovation in 2019, awarding it Regional CotY (Contractor of the Year) honors.

Then COVID-19 hit and Hopewell Theater was closed from March of 2020 to September of 2021, when it reopened with much fanfare.

“You supported our opening, waited patiently through the pandemic, and returned in even greater numbers post-pandemic,” Scully said in Tuesday’s announcement.

During and after the shutdown, the theater advocated for funding to support live entertainment venues imperiled by COVID-19 closures and, in December of 2020, it founded the New Jersey Independent Venue Association.

Its efforts were recognized by the NJ Business & Industry Association, which bestowed on Hopewell Theater the Award for Excellence in Community Service, which honors commitment “to leadership in finding solutions to social or economic challenges.”

In Tuesday’s announcement, Scully called it “an honor and a privilege to breathe life into Hopewell Theater alongside our incredible staff, talent, and patrons.”

“Seeing our community coming together here, to meet friends and get inspired, has continually inspired me,” she said. “I will miss welcoming you to HT. However, I do remain hopeful that the spirit of Hopewell Theater will endure — a venue that has always served the community for nearly a century and a half.”

The announcement prompted an outpouring grief and gratitude on Facebook Tuesday night.

“HT has been a very special place, with a unique style that reflected the vision and hard work of the leadership and staff,” one comment read. “I’m so proud of Sara Scully for bringing it to life, growing it, facing the trials of the pandemic, advocating for the industry, and the great team who treated audience and performers with such great hospitality.”

One musician who visited the theater both as a performer and audience member said, “It was a joy to see the many artists perform there — and I’m grateful for the chance to play on that stage. So many hard working and talented people made the HT a landmark we’ll always hold in our hearts.”


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