Boom time on Coney’s Boardwalk
Who said Coney Island was dead?
A beachside bar and the first restaurants and chic clothing shops to grace Coney Island in a decade have popped up across the neighborhood, many in long-vacant storefronts.
“I’ve been a district manager here for 16 years and I haven’t seen this.”
The commercial boomlet comes at a time when many in the seaside neighborhood feared the area would be abandoned for years to come because plans to redevelop Coney Island could stall.
A critical city zoning change that will shape the neighborhood and what can be built there could take at least another year to be approved, ensuring that a solid vision for Coney Island won’t come until late 2009.
In the meantime, there’s apparently a lot of interest in getting in on the ground floor of whatever will happen in Coney Island.
Reichenthal said the large summer crowds that flood the beach every year are appealing to many businesses.
“This kind of indicates the interest in the area, and that we’re on the way to new heights,” Reichenthal said, adding that he’s received calls from White Castle, several movie theaters and a lot of restaurants interested in expanding to the area.
Many of the new businesses are renting space from developer Thor Equities or from longtime Coney Island family the Russos, owners of Gargiulo’s restaurant.
“I don’t see any risk in opening up these things,” said John (Cha Cha) Chiarcia, owner of the Boardwalk bar Cha Cha’s, who opened Beer Island last month and has signed a seasonal lease with Thor. “People are still coming down here.”
Thor, which has been scooping up beachfront property since 2005, hopes to build commercial and residential buildings as well as an entertainment venue.
Thor has also erected 30 new amusement rides – from the Swinging Fire Ball to the Tidal Wave water ride – that are expected to remain open through mid-June before being reduced to 14.
The Surf Cafe, a jerk chicken spot called Bigga-Jerkey and Suzie Q’s, all Surf Ave.-based restaurants, have opened within the last three weeks, while Zoo York, a skateboard and clothing store, is set to open on Bowery St. in weeks.
The Surf Cafe, Suzie Q’s and Bigga-Jerkey are housed in Surf Ave. buildings owned by Thor, and are operating without leases through the season.
“My brother owns the Surf and Turf, so I figured I would try something of my own,” said Chris Maraio, who owns Suzie Q’s. “I love Coney Island and just like to work here. We have to see what this summer brings, but would love to come back.”
Beach lovers and parkgoers responded to the boom with a resounding “hooray,” and many said “hooey” to fears the neighborhood would go dark while the city finalizes plans.
BY DENISE ROMANO and JOTHAM SEDERSTROM
(Newly opened Surf Cafe at 1317 Surf Ave. in Coney Island.)