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Posts Tagged ‘Aqueduct flea market’

The BK Festival featuring displaced Aqueduct flea market vendors opened for the first time on Saturday in Coney Island. The new flea market is located on Thor Equities Stillwell property adjacent to Scream Zone and Nathan’s, site of Thor’s Flea by the Sea in 2009. Check out our flickr slide show. We took pix of everything that was there, to be fair and square. Unfortunately the opening day event was dismal. It was not in any way “like a state fair,” as hyped by the BK Festival management in advertisements, nor did it feature “upscale product,” as hyped by the New York Times in a puff piece on Joe Sitt. Not surprised. Just sayin’.

Like Thor’s “Festival by the Sea,” the new flea market bills itself as a festival because a flea market is not a permitted use on this property in Coney Island. In response to ATZ’s query last month about the zoning, Purnima Kapur, Brooklyn City Planning Director, wrote in an email: “The C7 zoning district in Coney Island does not permit Flea Markets as a permitted use; however small scale retail and restaurants are permitted in addition to amusements.” There are Use Groups A, B and C, with A being for Amusements, and a formula for their allocation.

flea market

The BK Festival brings Aqueduct Flea Vendors in Coney Island. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

As we’ve said before, it’s a little tricky to figure out how “OVER 100,000 SQUARE FEET OF SHOPPERS DELIGHT!” is permitted when Sitt failed to win 10,000 square foot retail and the City’s own zoning says “Use Group C [Retail] uses shall be limited to 2,500 square feet of floor area and 30 feet of street frontage, except that on corner lots one street frontage may extend up to 100 feet.” Of course the city has long failed to enforce its own zoning. The furniture stores on the north side of Surf have continued to exist for years in defiance of the amusement zoning. The only example of a flea market in Coney Island being closed that we’re aware of is when Mayor Giuliani shut down the flea on the north side of Surf prior to the opening of his new ballpark in 2000.

Cooking spices, cleaning products, car mats, and tools looked incongruous in the amusement area. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Saturday’s rainy forecast kept some of the Aqueduct vendors away, yet the locations were said to be completely booked for the season. Assigned numbers were painted on the blacktop. It was depressing to see miscellaneous items arrayed in rows of cardboard boxes–tape measures, sharpies, notebooks, cleaning brushes, sandals, toys, balls, what have you. It was a typical market, with signs advertising prices starting at $1. Or 3 for $5.

Booths selling household cleaning products, personal care products, tools, automotive accessories and cooking spices looked incongruous in the amusement area. It felt jarring to see the new Soarin’ Eagle roller coaster against a backdrop of signage advertising “Dresses For Less.” There were just a few vendors with what might be called “upscale product” displayed to advantage–snazzy belt buckles, some lovely clothing near the front of the flea market, and a booth with strollers, skateboards and kids toys. We found one item that we liked and purchased it for $10.

flea market

One of the best looking booths featured strollers, skateboards & kidz toys. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

The majority of space is taken up by flea market vendors, so it’s reasonable to say this event is indeed a flea market and not “like a state fair.’ The amusements consisted of a pony ride, a very small petting zoo, one inflatable bounce for kids (a second one was deflated), and two mimes. The Coney Island Dancers, who had brought in their sound system and were playing music, said they had been hired by the BK Festival. A few people were dancing on the sidewalk.

petting zoo

BK Festival's amusements include a small petting zoo and a pony ride. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

According to the Coney Island Rumor Mill, the BK Festival’s contract with Thor precludes them from bringing in mechanical amusement rides. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, considering that Sitt first evicted Norman Kaufman’s amusements from the property in 2006 and has failed to lease to several different carnivals and amusement operators who have tried to negotiate deals. As we wrote in Thor Equities Touts Coney Island as “RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME” (ATZ, May 4), we believe that the flea market or “shopping experience” is part of a strategy to win a variance for 10,000 square foot retail from the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals in a future administration. Having rides wouldn’t help that plan at all.

Why does the City allow Thor Equities to put flea markets that are festivals in name only on precious pieces of property in the C-7 amusement zone where the Tornado and Bobsled Coasters once thrilled? And not just once, but twice. It calls to mind the adage “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.”

flea market

BK Festival on the west side of Stillwell. May 14, 2011. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 5, 2012: Exclusive: Goodbye Flea Market, Hello “Steeplechase Park”

April 5, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Joe Sitt Scores Puff Piece in NY Times

March 29, 2011: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Close to Deal in Coney Island

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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View of Stillwell Avenue East in Coney Island. February 28, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Is Thor Equities defunct Flea by the Sea about to become Aqueduct by the Sea? The City’s and Central Amusement International’s new Scream Zone amusement park may be getting a flea market as a next-door neighbor. The buzz in Coney Island is that the vendors from the displaced Aqueduct Flea Market are prepared to lease Thor’s Stillwell Avenue lots, which are adjacent to the City-owned land. The tent frames from 2009′s Flea by the Sea remain standing, though the lots were vacant last season. If all goes smoothly with the process of securing permits from the City, vendors from the City’s largest flea market may set up their wares on property next to the new high thrill rides. Um, so was this part of the Coney Island Development Corporation’s Strategic Plan? Is shopping at a flea by the sea what the city planner really meant by “entertainment retail”?

Since ATZ first reported the news in “Displaced Queens Flea Vendors Eye Coney Island’s Vacant Lots” (ATZ, December 20, 2010), nobody has followed up on the story. But Queens vendors who are coming to check out the Coney Island location helped keep the story alive for me. I figured the rumored deal would fall through due to high rent and onerous lease terms. Hey, maybe it will still fall through! Last May, Tennessee-based Universal Fairs plan to lease Thor’s lots for an amusement park fell through for those very reasons. The flea management is currently working to secure the permits. To be clear, it is not the operator of the Aqueduct Flea Market, but individuals who helped manage the flea market and know how to run such a business, who are trying to put together the deal.

Coney Island hasn’t seen a flea market since 2009, when Thor Equities inflicted Festival by the Sea aka Flea by the Sea on Stillwell Avenue. The flea market featured an array of incongruous items and was a spectacular flop. Just look at my Flea by the Sea flickr set –automotive supplies, bathtub remodeling, shoes galore at anchor store #7. Yeah, they had cheap sunglasses, cellphone cases, T-shirts and beach towels, too.

Shoes Galore at Anchor Store # 7 at Joe Sitt's Flea by the Sea. July 12, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In 2001, the Giuliani administration repeatedly ticketed and finally got rid of the flea market that had operated on the north side of Surf since the 1980s. The headline in the Daily News read “CONEY SMALL BIZ BLITZ STORM OF TICKETS TIED TO DEBUT OF CYCLONES.” One vendor alludes to the previously unenforced zoning: “The city is telling us that we’re in the wrong zone. We’ve been in this wrong zone for 25 years, and now they say we have to stop doing business.”

At Thor’s flea market, I felt really sad walking on the hallowed ground where amusements had existed for more than 100 years until Joe Sitt bought the property and bulldozed everything. Stillwell Avenue, where the Tornado Roller coaster (1927-1977), the Bobsled (1941-1974), and Stauch’s Baths and Dance Hall (1930-1998) once stood, where Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City amused the zillion until Joe Sitt emptied out the amusements.

This is not the place for a flea market. Some people would say to me, well it’s better than an empty lot. I can’t agree. Sadly, many amusement operators tried but failed to rent the property from Thor. I always felt the gi-normous enclosed tents were part of Thor Equities strategy to win a variance for 10,000 square foot retail from the next administration. The City made a huge mistake not to have driven a better bargain with Joe Sitt and bought all of Stillwell instead of merely half of it.

Thor Equities Flea Market in Coney Island. June 6, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

UPDATE April 5, 2011:

ATZ learned that event organizer Will McCarthy, who already applied for a Temporary Place of Assembly Permit for the market from the DOB, will meet with City officials on Thursday in hopes of speeding along necessary approvals from the FDNY and DEP. Sources say a meeting with the Brooklyn Borough President to discuss the “BK Festival’s” plans is also on this week’s schedule. Read more at “Thor’s Coney Island: Joe Sitt Scores Puff Piece in NY Times,” ATZ, April 5, 2011.

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Related posts on ATZ…

May 26, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Make Dismal Debut

May 4, 2011: Thor Equities Touts Coney Island as “RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME”

May 13, 2010: Scoop: Deal to Rent Thor’s Coney Island Lots a No-Go for Fair Producer

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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Tent Frames from Summer 2009's Failed Flea By The Sea. Thor Equities Vacant Lots at Stillwell in Coney Island.  December 11, 2010. Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

Tent Frames from Summer 2009's Failed Flea By The Sea. Thor Equities Vacant Lots at Stillwell in Coney Island. December 11, 2010. Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

In 2011, Coney Island’s now decimated Stillwell Avenue will get a brand new amusement park called Scream Zone. Will its neighbor be one of the City’s largest flea markets? Coney Island is abuzz with the rumor that vendors from the popular Aqueduct Racetrack Flea Market, which has 1,000 vendors and lost its lease after 30 years, are collectively eyeing Thor Equities’ empty lots.

Sources tell ATZ that some of the vendors, who operate three days a week at the racetrack, were informed that negotiations were underway with Thor Equities to lease the property. When ATZ called Plain and Fancy Shows, the company that operates the flea, to confirm the story, the person who answered the phone denied any interest in coming to Coney Island. To be clear, the Coney Island Rumor Mill says it is not the operator, but individuals who helped manage the flea market and know how to run such a business, who are trying to put together the deal.

2009 Poster for Thor Equities Failed Flea By The Sea. May 11, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Fantasy Art: 2009 Poster for Thor Equities Failed Flea By The Sea. May 11, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The flea market folks are reportedly eyeing the lots on both sides of Stillwell formerly occupied by Thor’s failed Flea by the Sea. The skeletal frames of the tents have stood vacant since September 2009. The tenting became tattered and unsightly and was removed after numerous complaints. The asking price for the lease is rumored to be $300K for the season. Also said to be of interest to the flea market: The newly vacant lot at Surf Avenue and 12th Street, which was the site of the recently demolished Bank of Coney Island, across from Coney Island USA’s freak show. The corner of Surf and Stillwell, where the Shore Hotel was knocked down and the Henderson Building is currently being demolished. ATZ was told that the organizers of the new flea would place vendors of like items together to drive traffic to each location. Clothing, beauty products, household items and collectibles are among the categories of products.

Joe Sitt's Abandoned Flea By the Sea in Coney Island. October 15, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Joe Sitt's Abandoned Flea By the Sea in Coney Island. October 15, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The lots remained vacant last season after Thor Equities failed to come to an agreement to lease the property to a number of amusement operators, including a fair producer from Tennessee. ATZ learned that some of the same amusement operators are still interested in bringing in rides, games and shows. The main hurdle to a deal is said to be Thor’s insistence on a one-year lease. One amusement operator told ATZ that he needs a two-year deal to make a profit.

In the Summer of 2009, Thor’s so-called Festival By the Sea (aka Flea by the Sea) was billed as “A Uniquely Entertaining and Amusing Flea Market in Coney Island.” In order to get a DOB permit for a “temporary fair” after the “flea market” was denied, Thor promised “tons of fun” and tried to recruit strolling entertainers via craigslist. But the only entertainment we recall seeing was a clown making balloon toys and bands playing a couple of sets on weekends.

Thor Equities Flea Market. May 22, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thor Equities Flea Market. May 22, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Queens flea market has to leave the Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park after more than 30 years because of construction of a video slot casino. Around this time of year, vendors get tickets with their location number for next year’s flea market, which would have opened in March, after taking off January and February. Instead they got the news that December would be their last month.

According to an article in last Thursday’s New York Times, Betty Braton, the chairwoman of the Ozone Park neighborhood’s Community Board 10, said: “The casino operation is an attempt to go upscale, and a flea market is by nature sort of downscale. We’re looking forward to the economic development that is going to come from the casino operation.”

Would the Bloomberg administration, whose plan for the revitalization of Coney Island includes allowing Mom & Pop businesses to be evicted from City-owned property on the Boardwalk to make way for upscale eateries, approve a permit for a flea market? It is after all made up of hundreds of Mom & Pops. We’ll see. Or maybe we won’t.

If a flea market or amusement rides (or some combination of the two) are going to be Scream Zone’s neighbors on Stillwell in 2011, the biggest challenge will be signing a lease agreement with Thor Equities. When Joe Sitt acquired the property in 2006, he promptly evicted the batting cages, go karts and miniature golf, and turned Stillwell into what blogger Bob Guskind of Gowanus Lounge called “Thor Equities Corridors of Blight.” Alas, not much has changed on Stillwell since Bob wrote those words in May 2007.

We were not amused by auto supplies at Thor Equities Flea Market in Coney Island. May 31, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We were not amused by auto supplies at Thor Equities Flea Market in Coney Island. May 31, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

March 5, 2012: Exclusive: Goodbye Flea Market, Hello “Steeplechase Park”

May 26, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Aqueduct Flea Vendors Make Dismal Debut

April 21, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

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