Frank and Karen Boulton to reopen their namesake theater in Bay Shore


After three years of shuttered doors, The Great South Bay YMCA has finally found an “angel” to reopen its beloved Boulton Center in the heart of downtown Bay Shore.

Frank and Karen Boulton — who originally purchased the Boulton Center and gifted it to the YMCA in 1997 — announced they will be buying back the theater with plans on restoring it to its former glory. 

“Life comes full circle,” said Anne Brigis, president and CEO of the YMCA Long Island. “Karen and Frank have always been angels, to me, to our Y — they were almost like the YMCA’s first family.” 

Brigis spent most of her career in Bay Shore and helped spearhead The Boulton Center’s opening at 37 West Main Street nearly 20 years ago. So, it was tough for her to see the theater closed, she had previously told Greater Bay Shore.

The main challenge was the residuals from pandemic shutdowns, during which the theater got no help from the federal government. On top of that, the Boulton Center’s marquee collapsed in September — the culprit being deterioration from old age. 

The YMCA Boulton Center was not eligible for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, which helped save many of the country’s theaters during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasoning was the Bay Shore venue “is not the YMCA’s principal line of business,” she had explained.

While closed, the exterior of the Boulton Center received a fresh paint job, which Brigis said was to keep the “centerpiece of the downtown” looking pristine in the community while the building remained closed. 

Conversations with Frank and Karen happened for months until one day Frank Boulton called to tell Brigis the couple was ready to take a leap of faith. Boulton also co-founded the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and owns the Long Island Ducks.

He previously served as chairman of the Great South Bay YMCA board. 

“[Mr. Boulton is] a man who, whatever he does he puts his heart and mind and soul into, and he commits himself,” said Brigis. “This is somebody doing good for the community that they love and believe in — I know that he will do everything within his power to reopen the doors and really restore the arts to the downtown of Bay Shore.”

What’s next for the Boulton Center? 

The next step is to close the transaction between the YMCA and the Boultons. The second order of business is to replace the fallen marquee. 

Although the Boultons are looking to modernize the theater, the new marquee will be art deco in style to match the time period in which the structure was built nearly a century ago.

The former Regent Movie Theater, which first opened in 1929, was later reconstructed and reopened in 2003, a project that cost $2 million. Mr. Boulton said the lobby also went through a more recent renovation, so the theater’s interior is in good shape and has been maintained since it was closed. 

The couple also plans to add technological improvements to add to the theater experience. This includes implementing cameras for live-streaming performances.

“We’re a small intimate theater that has a pretty big name in entertainment,” he said. “People from all over the country could now stream in and watch those shows.”

With the rise in housing developments in Bay Shore’s downtown and influx of people moving in, Mr. Boulton said he predicts more of a demand for quality entertainment. To address this, he discussed possibly hosting more comedy acts and author book talks. He would also like to bring a film festival to the Boulton Center — a fitting venue given Bay Shore’s rich silent film history.

There is no set date for reopening, but if all goes according to plan, the Boulton Center could welcome the public near the end of summer.

“It’s full steam ahead,” Mr. Boulton said. “I’m very measured in what I do, I want to make sure that it’s successful.”