Posts Tagged ‘Mermaid Avenue’

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

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Major Meats

Ghost sign for Major Meats on Mermaid Ave. October 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

In 2009, Jimmy Prince closed Major Meats, his butcher shop at 1516 Mermaid Avenue, after more than 50 years. The hand-painted signage on the gate and the wall of the building next door stayed on. “Major has been proud to serve the Coney Island Community with the best Prime Meats since 1932. We are now looking forward to the 21 century,” says the lettering amid charmingly naive depictions of the Cyclone, Parachute Jump, Wonder Wheel and Astrotower. In the mural, Major Market is right next door to Nathan’s, which is actually at Surf and Stillwell, and has its own blimp in the sky!

Major Market, Coney Island

Detail of Ghost Sign for Major Market. October 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Out of nostalgia and respect for “The Prince of Mermaid Avenue,” who is now 81, and beloved in the neighborhood, the signage on the wall and the gate were never painted over. Whenever Jimmy is around Coney–he has a part-time job at a butcher shop in Marine Park– he can’t go 15 minutes without a former customer coming over and giving him a hug.

Sign at 1621 Mermaid Avenue

Keep Coney Island the Playground of the World, Sign at 1621 Mermaid Avenue. October 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Since the now faded and peeling signs appeared in stories about vacant stores in Coney Island one year after Sandy, ATZ wanted to highlight their history. “Keep Coney Island the Playground of the World. Keep Coney Island Clean,” says the message on the gate. Sandy didn’t do in the signs, though the storm did destroy the new deli that was there.

1621 Mermaid Avenue

Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery has leased 1516 Mermaid Avenue. October 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill has leased the store, according to broker Joe Vitacco. The building is owned by the Russo brothers of Gargiulo’s, who have completely renovated the space for the new tenant. Golden Krust is relocating from 1621 Mermaid Avenue.

Established 1932

Established 1932. Sign for Major Market. October 23, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita


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October 28, 2013: Photo Album: Banksy Brings His Robot to Coney Island

January 31, 2012: Remnant of Under Boardwalk Bar Found in Coney Island

January 16, 2012: Photo of the Day: Signs of Coney’s Club Atlantis Resurface

October 27, 2011: Ghost Lettering & End of Season Color in Old Coney Island

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Friscia Pharmacy

Friscia Pharmacy, Mermaid Ave at W 15th St, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


“Mermaid Avenue that’s the street where the sun and storm clouds meet,” wrote Woody Guthrie in his 1950 song “Mermaid’s Avenue.” Four months after Superstorm Sandy devastated Coney Island, ATZ took a drive down the neighborhood’s shopping street to see how many stores had reopened. Our impression, seconded by people who live or work in the neighborhood, was about 70 per cent.

“A lot more places have opened up. It’s a credit to the Mom and Pops,” said Eric Levy, editor of Astella Action News. The local newspaper is published by Mermaid Avenue’s Astella Development. The not-for-profit community organization was one of several that lost everything and is currently sharing a trailer on West 17th Street with the Alliance for Coney Island, Coney Recovers, Project Hope and Brooklyn Community Services. Levy says they expect to move back to their rehabbed storefront at 1618 Mermaid Avenue next month.

7 N 7 Suprette

7 N 7 Suprette, Open 24 Hours, 3030 Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The majority of the reopened stores are bodegas, drugstores, and small businesses like the local 7-Eleven lookalike in the photo above. Rebecca, whose family owns the pawn shop at Mermaid and West 21st Street, told ATZ that their store had a grand reopening party on December 15th. They brought in a pizza truck and gave out promotional items as well as raffle tickets for Nets games and cash cards.

It’s taking longer for some of the businesses that are part of the corporate world to rebuild after the storm. Among the stores that haven’t reopened yet are the MacDonald’s at 1403 Mermaid Avenue and 608 Neptune Avenue, which were still boarded up when we drove by. Cleanup efforts finally got underway over the past few days at the Mermaid Avenue restaurant. MacDonald’s Corporate Office did not respond to a request for comment. (A few days after this story was posted renovations started. In April they began hiring and expect to reopen in May.)


Citibank, Mermaid Ave at W 30th St, Coney Island. February 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Citibank at 3002 Mermaid also remains closed. “Our temporary Citibank branch will open in July as we rebuild our previous location, which was severely damaged after Hurricane Sandy,” Catherine Pulley of Citi Public Affairs told ATZ. “Citibank is deeply committed to our customers and the community of Coney Island. We are working as quickly as possible to return to our previous location and reopen our doors.”

Chase’s branch on Mermaid at 17th Street is also closed due to storm damage, but the bank set up a mobile branch on December 6 and currently does business out of a trailer in their parking lot.

Coney Island Library

Coney Island Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Mermaid Avenue at 17th St. February 22, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The post office, which was operating out of trailer until about a week ago, has reopened. But the saddest story on Mermaid Avenue has to be the shuttered Coney Island Library. When we drove by it looked even more abandoned than it did in December. Ruined books litter the boarded-up, fenced off entryway. Urban Librarians Unite’s mini-library box inviting one to “Take a Free Book” stands empty. The Brooklyn Public Library’s Bookmobile service is provided on Thursdays from 11am to 4pm in front of the library, but the children who used the computers must miss them. The branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is not expected to reopen until October at the earliest.

A few weeks after Sandy, the Daily News reported that five Brooklyn libraries wrecked by Sandy will require $10 million in repairs with the Coney Island location being one of the most seriously damaged. 35,177 books and DVDs were lost. You can make a contribution to rebuild the library on the Brooklyn Public Library’s website. Make sure to select “Additional Options – I would like to direct my donation to Coney Island.”

This set of photos was taken on Mermaid Avenue on February 22, 2013, and on December 5 and November 17, 2012. The most recent photos are first…


Related posts on ATZ…

February 27, 2013: Coney Island’s 24-Hour Dunkin Donuts to Reopen in March

November 24, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: A Few Stores Reopen, Most Delayed by Damage

October 29, 2012: Photos of the Day: Hurricane Sandy Approaches Coney Island

June 21, 2012: Photo Album: Mermaid Avenue Murals and Public Art

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Funny Face

Mermaid Avenue Funny Face. June 18, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In Coney Island’s revamped amusement area, hand-painted vernacular signage and public art are rapidly being displaced by custom lighted signs or painted over. Just a few blocks away on Mermaid Avenue, mural painting by local artists is still thriving. Walking from Stillwell Avenue to West 28th Street, ATZ came across work on almost every block, including a Funny Face touting “Parking for Puertoricans Only,” murals memorializing lost friends and a community art project celebrating growth and diversity.

Église  Evangelique Haitienne

Église Evangelique Haitienne, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

One block north of Surf Avenue, Mermaid Avenue is the neighborhood’s shopping district, populated with stores, restaurants, churches and community organizations such as Astella Development and South Brooklyn Youth Consortium. As Woody Guthrie famously says in his song “Mermaid’s Avenue” written in 1950: “Mermaid Avenue that’s the street where all colors of goodfolks meet.”

Mural Memorializing Jose Chin, Five Deli Grocery, West 28th Street, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The mural pictured above dedicated to the memory of Jose Chin is painted on a wall outside of Five Deli Grocery on West 28th Street and Mermaid Avenue. Coney Island artist Kwamin Serguson finished it on April 21, 2012, two years after Jose’s passing at age 22, according to an article in Astella Action News. The mural is one of several poignant memorials to lost youth that can be found on the sides of buildings.

Memorial Mural

Memorial Mural at Five Deli Grocery, West 28th Street, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Vision of Growth, created by Groundswell in collaboration with South Brooklyn Youth Consortium, is on West 27th Street at Mermaid Avenue. The 15 by 80 foot acrylic on cinderblock mural features images of Coney Island landmarks and highlights the diversity of the community. The project was part of Groundswell’s 2008 Summer Leadership Institute. “Artists Alex Pimienta and Jessica Poplawski worked with a team of youth to create a colorful mural celebrating the people, changing communities, and future of Coney Island,” says the project description.


Detail of A Vision of Growth: Groundswell in collaboration with South Brooklyn Youth Consortium. Mermaid Ave at W 27th St, Coney Island. Photo by Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The young mural artists from the South Brooklyn Youth Consortium are Mohamed Abdelrahman, Michael Coleman, Shani Coleman, Nicholas Collazo, Ahmathya Edwards, Mashayach Edwards, Michael Ferrera, Angel Garcia, Andrea Gil, Doris Huey, Emily Lew, Carla Pierre Paul and Ken Zheng.


Detail of A Vision of Growth: Groundswell in collaboration with South Brooklyn Youth Consortium. Mermaid Ave at W 27th St, Coney Island. Photo by Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


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May 29, 2012: Photo Album: Coney Island Lights & Signs of the Times

March 2, 2012: Coney Island Murals by Street Artists Await Their Fate

February 5, 2012: Botched Job: Coney Island Art Exiled by Thor Equities

June 1, 2011: Photo Album: Street Art Down by the Coney Island Bowery

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Mermaid Avenue at West 28th Street, Coney Island. June 25, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

In Woody Guthrie’s delightful song about Coney Island’s Mermaid Avenue, where he lived in the 1940s and ’50s, the songwriter says that he’d never seen a mermaid here. Neither have we. But at last night’s screening of “The Prince of Mermaid Avenue” at the South Brooklyn Youth Consortium at 2811 Mermaid, ATZ asked a couple of kids in the summer program if they were mermaids.

The avenue of neighborhood shops, churches and residences is just one block north of the Coney Island amusement area’s main drag, Surf Avenue. So close, yet a world away. At dusk we spotted this poster for “A Coney Good Time” at the bus stop at West 28th Street.

While there may not be any mermaids on Mermaid Avenue, there once was a prince: The documentary “The Prince of Mermaid Avenue” is about Jimmy Prince, who retired after 60 years at Mermaid Avenue’s Major Market. Charles Denson’s film is screening again today, June 30, at 2 pm at the Coney Island Library, 1901 Mermaid Avenue at West 18th Street.


Related posts on ATZ…

June 9. 2011: Photo of the Day: Mango Vendor in Coney Island

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May 3, 2011: Photo of the Day: Street Art by RAE in Coney Island

October 28, 2010: Photo Album: Requiem for Coney Island’s Shoot Out the Star

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