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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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