A Huntington business that hasn't even begun to reach its potential has earned statewide honors from a group dedicated to downtown revitalization and development.
The New Huntington Theatre, operated by partners Rich Najuch and Joel Froomkin, was named Main Street Business of the Year for 2012 by Indiana Main Street, a program operated by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
The award was presented Oct. 11 during Indiana Main Street's 2012 conference in Kokomo. The recognition is designed to honor a Main Street business that is leading its community's revitalization efforts.
In addition to resurrecting the once-vacant theater, Najuch is a founding member and tireless supporter of Huntington Main Street, the local incarnation of the statewide program, notes Tina Bobilya, executive director of the Huntington County Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Bobilya wrote one of several letters nominating the pair for the honor, which came as a surprise to both men.
Additional nomination letters were submitted by Ann Siegfried, representing the Huntington Arts Initiative, and Debbie Dyer, representing the LaFontaine Arts Council.
Froomkin and Najuch, both veterans of the stage,bought the downtown theater and moved from New York to Huntington in June of 2007. Twelve months later, they had renovated the front lobby of the building - originally a vaudeville house, and later restyled as a movie theater - and started offering small shows in the Huntington Supper Club in June of 2008.
Four years later, their dream of staging live shows in the theater's main auditorium remains strong. It's also slow in coming.
"Target date? We don't have one," Najuch says while pondering the auditorium's unfinished state. "We may near completion by the end of next year."
The main auditorium actually sat untouched until early this year.
"We spend so much time doing other things," Najuch says, not the least of which is writing, casting, rehearsing and staging the supper club shows several times a year.
They also opened, then closed, a restaurant next door to the theater. The restaurant will provide the dinners for theater patrons, Najuch says, but there are no current plans to re-open it as a stand-alone restaurant.
Najuch and Froomkin were instrumental in organizing the Huntington Arts Initiative, a community organization with a goal of restoring the former opera house in downtown Huntington, Siegried notes. Najuch is also an active board member of the local Visitor and Convention Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce, she says.
In their work with the LaFontaine Arts Council, Dyer says, Froomkin and Najuch "have become the most loyal of our patrons."
The pair isn't complaining, but that kind of volunteerism cuts down on the time they have to renovate their own building.
"In January of this year, this room was so full of stuff you couldn't move around," Najuch says of the theater's main auditorium. "We spent a month clearing it out."
Since then, metal studs have gone up on one side wall and part of the opposite side wall; framing is in place for the front of the theater, where the stage will eventually be built.
To accommodate the stage, the front wall came out 26 feet from the former location of the movie screen. It's now about the same size of the original stage, which was torn out in the 1940s.
"We hope to finish the third wall before the Christmas show," Najuch says.
"We did the entire lobby in two and a half months, but we were working 14-16 hours a day, uninterrupted. Now, we work two hours a day, and sometimes we block out weekends."
After Christmas, they plan to hire a crew to hang the drywall; then they'll build platforms of varying heights on the auditorium floor. Tables will be situated on the platforms, which will afford an excellent view of the stage to each of the 246 patrons, Najuch says.
Froomkin and Najuch plan to open the auditorium for dinner shows without completing renovations to the balcony. When they decide to renovate the balcony, it will accommodate 300 people in regular theater seating.
It's just going to take time, they say.
"When we start on a project, we think it will take 10 minutes and it ends up taking 10 days," Najuch says.
"It's easier to build new," Froomkin adds.
But, they say, they have no regrets about taking on the project.
"I regret we don't have more hours in the day," Froomkin says. "It's hard not to be very impatient about it."
Complete caption: Rich Najuch and Joel Froomkin, owners of the New Huntington Theatre, have been named 2012 Main Street Business of the year by Indiana Main Street, a state organization that promotes revitalization and redevelopment of Indiana’s downtown districts. Displaying the award are (from left) Lee Pasko, of Main Street Huntington; Tina Bobilya, of the Huntington County Visitor and Convention Bureau; Debbie Dyer, of the LaFontaine Arts Council; Ann Siegfried, of the arts council; Froomkin and Najuch; Rose Wall, of Main Street Huntington; Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters; Jean Hayden and Liz Sanders, both of Main Street Huntington.