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Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

The FDNY Color Guard will present the colors and sing the National Anthem at Coney Island’s Opening Day Ceremony. Photo via Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

There’s a chance of snow showers on Saturday, but it’s expected to be sunny with temps in the 40s on Palm Sunday, when Coney Island’s rides go for their first spin of the season. In celebration of the landmark Wonder Wheel’s 95th year, the first 95 people will get a free ride on Opening Day. The soon-to-be 88-year-old Cyclone roller coaster will as usual offer free rides to the first 100 on line. Erik Knapp aka Mr. Cyclone is once again expected to arrive the night before to be the first on line.

Michael Sarrel, co-owner of Ruby's Bar

Michael Sarrel, co-owner of Ruby’s Bar. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Saturday, the Boardwalk businesses Ruby’s Bar and Lola Star Boutique will welcome customers for the first time since last fall, joining Tom’s Restaurant and Brooklyn Beach Shop, which are already open daily.

Saturday night is Coney Island USA’s spring gala, which is being held at the art organization’s Surf Avenue headquarters on the eve of Coney’s Opening Day. Featuring performances by burlesque and sideshow stars including Mat Fraser of “American Horror Story,” live music, and go go dancers in the Freak Bar, the event runs from 8pm till midnight.

Coney Island USA Freak Bar

Freak Bar at Coney Island USA. Photo © Norman Blake

The annual fundraiser supports Coney Island USA’s Mermaid Parade, Coney Island Circus Sideshow, Burlesque at the Beach, Coney Island Museum and Coney Island Film Festival. General admission of $100 includes unlimited beer, wine, and food. VIP admission of $150 also includes one hour earlier admission at 7pm, Meet and Greet with some of the performers in the V.I.P. Lounge, and gift bags. Tickets may be purchased online until 10pm on Friday. Day of tickets available from 6pm and during the gala at Coney Island USA.

On Palm Sunday, the festivities begin at 10:30am on the Boardwalk with the Blessing of the Rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park by Pastor Debbie Santiago of Coney Island’s Salt and Sea Mission, speeches by elected officials, and the FDNY color guard presenting the Colors and singing the National Anthem. After a ribbon cutting ceremony at Deno’s gate, the gathering moves to the Cyclone roller coaster, which is operated by Luna Park. Brooklyn’s Borough President performs the traditional Egg Cream Christening of the front car of the Cyclone, after which it goes for its inaugural ride of the season.

Chuck Schumer Erik Knapp

Senator Schumer admires Erik Knapp’s Cyclone Tattoo, Opening Day, March 24, 2013. Photo via Luna Park

The Coney Island Circus Sideshow will run continuously on Palm Sunday from 1pm – 8pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids under 12.

The Coney Island History Project, located on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel sign, will be open special hours from 1pm-6pm for a preview of the 2015 season and free souvenir photos with vintage ride figures. Admission is free of charge.

Also opening on Palm Sunday are 12th Street Amusements and the remaining independent concessions on the Bowery and West 12th Street, including the dancing doll “Miss Coney Island,” the animated windows of “Coney Island Always,” games of skill such as Skin the Wire and Feed the Clown, and Monica, the High Striker Queen of Coney Island.

Coney Island

Monica getting ready to open her High Striker on West 12th Street in Coney Island. March 22, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

March 19, 2015: News and Views: 10 Days Till Coney Island’s Opening Day

September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round

March 25, 2013: Photo of the Day: Palms on Palm Sunday in Coney Island

March 29, 2012: Photo Album: Looking Back at Coney Island’s Opening Day

We did not plan to post any more photos of snow. Winter’s done. But yesterday our friend Dutchmazz went for a walk in Coney on the first day of spring and brought back lovely, lovely photos and this atmospheric video. The most exquisite snow is spring snow.

Related posts on ATZ…

February 21, 2015: Video of the Day: The Astotower as Aeolian Harp

February 8, 2015: Video & Photos of the Day: Riding Coney Island’s Abandoned Giant Slide (1973)

December 16, 2013: Video of the Day: Beyoncé’s “XO” Love Letter from Coney Island

August 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Raw Footage of 1960s Coney Island

Repair crew on Coney Island Boardwalk

Repair crew on Coney Island Boardwalk. March 13, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

With Coney Island’s Palm Sunday season opener a mere 10 days away, the amusement area is a flurry of activity. New signage and work permits are affixed to buildings, job trainings and Boardwalk repairs are underway. Trenches are being dug along the Bowery and Jones Walk to lay new gas lines before the area comes fully awake from its winter slumber. City ride inspectors were on site on Wednesday inspecting rides that are ready to spin while both new rides and old favorites are still being set up in Coney Island’s amusement parks.

Scrambler Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Astroland’s Scrambler is back in Coney at the Wonder Wheel. Photo © Tricia Vita

The cars are expected to go back up on the Wonder Wheel any day now — the official first sign of Spring. Among the season’s three new family rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park is the Speedway, a Nascar-inspired ride with a Whip-like twist, which ATZ previewed earlier this month. A new Drop Tower arrived on Monday, as per this photo shared via twitter…

Astroland’s popular Scrambler has been refurbished and brought home to Coney Island. The ride is now being assembled in its new spot beside the Wonder Wheel. In Luna Park, Zamperla’s Rockin’ Tug has replaced the Beach Shack, and more new rides are yet to come.

Luna Games

New ‘Luna Games’ Signage Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita

Luna Park is increasing its presence on the Boardwalk with bold electric signage for “Luna Games” and additional pinwheels, which are the park’s logo. ATZ has learned exclusively that the owner of Coney’s Cones sold his small business to landlord Central Amusements International, which operates Luna Park. The ice cream shop had one year remaining on its five-year lease. The other independent businesses on the Boardwalk including Tom’s, Ruby’s and Paul’s Daughter have eight-year leases. Sources say that Zamperla will bring an Italian gelato shop to Coney Cone’s location, which is adjacent to the park’s boardwalk gate. The park is also debuting ticketbooths on the Boardwalk.

Luna Park Pinwheel

New Pinwheel, Luna Park’s logo, on the move in Scream Zone. Photo © Tricia Vita

In the Strange & Unusual Department: A giant skull long retired from duty at Wonder Wheel Park’s Spook-A-Rama dark ride was pulled out of storage and wheeled over to the Coney Island History Project. This fantastic creature will be on display this season, replacing the Cyclops head which is on loan to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art for a traveling art exhibit. Like the Cyclops, the skull’s eyes light up and move, promising some terrific selfies. The skull was a stage prop in Harvey Fierstein’s 1984 play Spookhouse and a denizen of the Coney Island Hysterical Society’s Spookhouse in the former Dragon’s Cave on the Bowery.

Skull from dark ride

Skull from dark ride en route to Coney Island History Project Photo © Tricia Vita

In Thor Equities’ building on Stillwell Avenue, work permits are posted and construction is underway on Wahlburgers, which is expected to open in May. The permits cover general construction on the first floor and the roof, where outdoor dining will be available for the celebrity burger chain . The roof currently overlooks an empty lot but as ATZ wrote in January: “Coney Island Rumor Mill: No Rides But Games, Food & Merch Coming to Thor’s Lot.”

There could be some truth to the rumor. Earlier this month, electrical service was installed on the lots. Since Thor bought the property in 2006 and evicted amusement operator Norman Kaufman, the Stillwell lots have occasionally hosted flea markets or carnivals. The lots were vacant last year as well as in 2010 and 2013, when the City issued a stop-work order on a permit for “temporary parking for the amusement district.”

Wahlburgers Coney Island

Building permits posted on window of future Wahlburgers on Stillwell Avenue, where construction is underway. Photo © Tricia Vita

Check our post on “Coney Island Amusement Park Jobs from Entry Level to Managerial Up for Grabs” for updates. New jobs being advertised included Brand Ambassadors for Luna Park, Marketing and Events Coordinator for Wahlburgers, and account Manager for Coney Island Brewing Company. Game of skill operators are needed for the 2015 season at the independent games on West 12th street off the Boardwalk. Apply in person or message @MissConeyIsland via twitter.

Luna Park Job Screening

Luna Park Job Screening at B&B Carousell. Photo © Tricia Vita

After the March 29th season opener, Coney Island’s amusement parks are open weekends and school holidays until the daily schedule kicks in Memorial Day Weekend.

More photos from this set may be viewed on flickr.

Polar Express

Polar Express, famed for its mega sound system and live DJs, getting ready for Coney Island’s Opening Day, 12th Street Amusements. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

March 6, 2015: Photo Album: Glimpses of Spring in Coney Island

January 29, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Subway Cafe, Sushi Lounge, IHOP, Checkers, Johnny Rockets

September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round

March 3, 2015: Coney Island 2015: The Whip Returns with a NASCAR Twist

Coney Island Always

Window detail at Coney Island Always, West 12th St, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

The famed life-size dancing doll “Miss Coney Island” and the miniature animated rides of “Coney Island Always” are getting spruced up today in anticipation of Coney Island’s official Opening Day. Palm Sunday is just two weeks away on March 29th.

Window washing and replacement of some of the novel items on display are currently underway. The big news is that one of Miss Coney’s dancing cats is retiring and a dancing white rabbit doll is getting the spot. This means that Miss Coney Island will have possibly the only coney in Coney! Coney Island was of course named Conyne Eylandt –Rabbit Island– by the Dutch after the wild rabbits that lived here in the 17th century.

These whimsical, independently owned amusements cost only 25 cents each to enjoy and along with games of skill such as Skin the Wire and Feed the Clown are located on West 12th Street beneath Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. If you would like to spend the summer with Miss Coney Island and her friends, games operators are needed for the 2015 season. Apply in person or tweet @MissConeyIsland.

Miss Coney Island

Coney Island Always, Miss Coney Island, and Games of Skill on West 12th Street. Photo © Tricia Vita

UPDATE…

Related posts on ATZ…

April 6, 2014: Photo of the Day: Miss Coney Island’s Dancing Cat

April 5, 2014: Photo Album: A Solitary Evening Stroll in Coney Island

September 30, 2012: Photo of the Day: Last Dance With Miss Coney Island

April 27, 2012: The Dancing Doll “Miss Coney Island” Speaks

Wilensky Hardware

Wilensky Hardware at 2126 Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, a third-generation family business founded in 1920. October 18, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

This year in Coney Island, Friscia Pharmacy and Wilensky Hardware on Mermaid Avenue and the landmark Wonder Wheel are marking their 95th anniversaries. All three first opened for business in 1920. That’s a remarkable feat of longevity in a City where every day we hear about another small business being pushed out by skyrocketing rent, the influx of chains or rampant redevelopment. According to blogger Jeremiah Moss of Vanishing New York, who recently launched the #SaveNYC campaign to help Mom & Pops, if you add up all the years in business represented, New York City lost 6,926 years of its history in the dozen years from 2001 to 2013.

What do Coney Island’s 95-year-old Mom & Pops have in common? One is still owned by its founding family while the other two were sold to new owners decades ago. All “own the premises,” as Carnegie Deli founder Milton Parker famously recommended in his 2005 memoir. Nowadays, that advice has almost become a prerequisite for survival in New York City.

Wilensky Hardware at 2126 Mermaid Avenue has been owned and operated by three generations of the Wilensky family. “It was started by my wife’s grandfather Samuel Wilensky in 1920,” says Steve Feinstein. Asked if he had any unusual and obsolete pieces of hardware that he could show us, he said the store used to supply Steeplechase Park with bolts up to 1″ x 36″. Unfortunately, everything in the store, including the old stock, was ruined by Hurricane Sandy.

Friscia Pharmacy

Friscia Pharmacy, at 1505 Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Down the block at 1505 Mermaid Avenue is Friscia Pharmacy, “The Oldest in Coney Island,” as a sign at its entrance proudly proclaims. The banner on the side of the building celebrating the store’s 94th anniversary caught our eye last year and inspired this story. Pharmacist Anthony Morano tells us he has been there 42 years. His partner Frank Giordano retired in 2014 after five decades of service to the community.

It was Giordano who bought the pharmacy from Anthony Friscia in 1960. While we were in the store, business was brisk and an old-timer told ATZ that there had been another owner before Friscia. A druggists directory from 1921 reveals that his name was S. Gentile. Giordano says the apothecary jars they once used to make ointments, as well as measuring scales and other antique items were destroyed when the pharmacy was flooded by Sandy and had to be rebuilt.

Friscia Pharmacy

Friscia Pharmacy, “The Oldest in Coney Island.” March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The Wonder Wheel was built by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company in 1920 and designated an official New York City landmark in 1989. Today it is owned and operated by the second and third generations of the Vourderis family. The family patriarch, for whom “Denos D. Vourderis Place” (West 12th Street between the Boardwalk and the Bowery) is named, bought the Wheel 32 years ago this June.

A popular spot for engagement photos, the Wheel has a very romantic history: When Denos D. Vourderis was a hot dog vendor in the 1940s, he promised his sweetheart Lula that he would buy the Wonder Wheel for her as a wedding present if she would marry him. She said yes and he was able to buy the Wheel in 1983 when it was offered for sale by Fred Garms, whose father Herman was its first owner-operator. The Vourderis family restored the Wheel and made it the centerpiece of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

“It takes a lifetime of devotion, hard work, and dedication to preserve this wonderful landmark attraction,” co-owner Steve Vourderis told Amusement Today on the 90th anniversary of the Wheel. “We have a responsibility to ourselves, our family and most of all to dad to make sure its legacy lives on. It also helps to love what you do.”

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. August 9, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

Turning 95 is a milestone but this trio of businesses have neighbors who have been around even longer. The original Nathan’s Famous, which will celebrate its centennial in 2016, is the City’s oldest hot dog stand and holds the City’s oldest beer license. Across Surf Avenue on West 15th Street is the 108-year-old Gargiulo’s Restaurant. Founded by Gus Gargiulo and owned by the Russo brothers since 1965, it serves classic Neapolitan cuisine and hosts special events from dinner dances and weddings to the annual Alliance for Coney Ialand Gala.

Two slightly younger neighbors are in their 80’s: The famed Totonno’s Pizzeria on Neptune Avenue since 1924 is on every list of The Ten Best Pizzas in New York City. The world-famous Cyclone Roller Coaster was built in 1927 by the Rosenthal brothers, saved from demolition by Astroland Park’s Dewey Albert in 1975 and is now operated by Luna Park.

For more info on Vanishing New York’s #SaveNYC, a crowd-sourcing campaign that aims to protect small businesses by passing long-stalled legislation in the City Council and starting a Cultural Landmarks Program, visit the website or join the Facebook group.

Gargiulo's Restaurant

Gargiulo’s Restaurant on West 15th Street in Coney Island. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

UPDATE March 11, 2015:

Thanks to photographer Lisanne Anderson for sending us her lovely photos of Friscia Pharmacy’s storefront taken five years ago, when they were celebrating their 90th anniversary. Note the neon signs!

Friscia Pharmacy

Friscia Pharmacy, on their 90th anniversary. Photo © Lisanne Anderson

Friscia Pharmacy

Prescriptions Sign at Friscia Pharmacy, on their 90th anniversary in 2010. Photo © Lisanne Anderson

Related posts on ATZ…

January 20, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park Adds Scrambler, ‘Twist & Shout’ Drop Tower

November 18, 2014: ATZ’s Guide to Coney Island’s Honorary Walks and Places

March 5, 2013: Coney Island’s Mermaid Avenue Four Months After Sandy

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

Coney Island Kittens for adoption

Yoda is one of four Coney Island kittens up for adoption. Photo © Diana Baggott

If you’re cat lonely this winter, Yoda will be happy to keep you and your computer company. She is one of four Coney Island kittens born indoors and hand-raised by a cat-loving family that will soon be up for adoption. The kittens, two girls and two boys, are now 11 weeks old and at Sean Casey Animal Rescue. Yoda and Phantom, the black and white kitten, are the girls. Smokey and Tiger are the boys. Now that they’re are old enough to be adopted, our friend Diana brought the foursome to Sean Casey last week. She is keeping two of the kittens and Mama will get spayed.

Mama Cat and Kittens

Mama Cat and Kittens. January 30, 2015. Photo © Diana Baggott

All of the kittens have sweet personalities and are litterbox trained. “They are playful and like to explore,” says Diana. “Yoda and Smokey are not afraid of anything. They were the first to do anything. Phantom is a little shy.”

If you’d like to inquire about the kittens, contact Sean Casey Animal Rescue, which has locations in Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace.

Kittens up for adoption

Sleeping Kittens January 20, 2015. Photo © Diana Baggott

Related Posts on ATZ…

September 19, 2013: Photo of the Day: Coney Island Parakeets Go for a Walk

June 17, 2013: Photo of the Day: Paquito the Chihuahua in Coney Island

May 8, 2013: Traveler: The Cats of Rimini’s Italia in Miniatura Park

Lola Star Boutique

Getting ready for Coney Island’s season at the Lola Star Boutique in Stillwell Terminal. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Never mind the snow, it’s only two weeks till spring! This week in Coney Island, the Boardwalk was alternately icy and snowy, and the majority of businesses in the amusement area were shut tight, but glimpses of spring could be seen. In Stillwell Terminal, Dianna Carlin was moving back into her Lola Star Boutique after spending the winter at a pop up shop in Williamsburg. Her second store is on the Boardwalk. Coney Island’s Opening Day is just a few weeks away on March 29 because Palm Sunday is early this year.

Eldorado Arcade

Getting ready for the season at the Eldorado Arcade on Coney Island’s Bowery. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The front of the Eldorado Arcade was open as workers readied the arcade machines for the first event of the new season–DJ Nicky Siano’s 60th birthday party on March 20. Siano, who was a resident DJ at Studio 54, was drawn to Coney Island by the Eldorado Auto Skooter’s legendary sound system built by Richard Long of the Paradise Garage and Studio 54. “We will be dancing on the floor (not riding),” say party organizers, who are selling advance tickets online for $25. The arcade will be operating and Nicky will be spinning all night.

Wonder Wheel cars

Freshly painted Wonder Wheel cars will soon be put back on the Wheel. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

At Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, the new Whip-inspired Speedway ride was being assembled while the freshly painted Wonder Wheel cars were lined up inside the shop. Spring officially arrives in Coney Island when the cars are put back up on the Wheel. As we’ve noted before, being here to see the 24 cars go up, the Swinging ones first and then the Stationary, is like seeing red, white and blue crocuses bloom before your eyes. The date the cars go up is subject to the vagaries of wind, weather and work schedules, but it’s usually a week or so before Opening Day.

Wahlburgers

Celebrity burger chain Wahlburgers is under construction and set to open in May. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The green sign on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue storefront across from Nathan’s says “Coming Spring 2015 – Wahlburgers – Our Family – Our Story – Our Burgers.” Coney Island is getting a concentration of new franchises, including IHOP, Checkers and Subway Cafe, that threaten to turn Surf Avenue into Anytown USA. Wahlburgers has a niche of its own. It will bring the celebrity brothers Donnie, Mark and Paul Wahlberg to Coney Island to film the restaurant’s opening for their A&E reality show. When ATZ first reported the news last year of Wahlburgers coming to Coney, the post was nearly as popular as Friday night fireworks! The restaurant will be the first of seven Wahlburgers franchises slated to open in New York City. Construction is underway with a May 1st opening date announced.

Piece of Velvet

Cake pops at newly opened Piece of Velvet Cake & Cupcake Shop on Surf Avenue, Coney Island. March 2, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

An outpost of Piece of Velvet, a cake and cupcake shop with locations in Fort Greene and Harlem, opened in Coney Island on Valentine’s Day. Owned by a “staff collective” of former Cake Man Raven employees, tThe store is located on the north side of Surf across the street from Nathan’s and Williams Candy. Red velvet cakes and cupcakes are their specialty and are delicious. Check for introductory specials on Groupon.

While Nathan’s outdoor dining area is still covered in snow, plenty of indoor seating is available during the off-season. Last weekend, one of the first qualifiers for the July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest was held at the Florida Strawberry Festival. The winning contestants were Nasty Nate Biller of Texas, who downed 23 dogs in 10 minutes, and Mary Bowers of California, with 10.

Sign for Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest

Sign for 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan’s Outdoor Dining Area. March 2, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

March 3, 2015: Coney Island 2015: The Whip Returns with a NASCAR Twist

February 22, 2015: Coney Island Amusement Park Jobs from Entry Level to Managerial Up for Grabs

January 29, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Subway Cafe, Sushi Lounge, IHOP, Checkers, Johnny Rockets

September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round

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