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Posts Tagged ‘Retail Ride of a Lifetime’

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: Former site of McCullough’s Kiddie Park viewed from Bowery, with Scream Zone on City-owned property in background. July 20, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

With just 75 days left in Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, we’ve been taking stock of the new Coney Island, which began to take shape after the July 2009 rezoning and during the Mayor’s third term. Most of the City-owned land in the amusement area has been re-activated with amusements, starting with Luna Park (2010) and Scream Zone (2011) built by Central Amusement International on the vacant lots bought from Thor Equities for $95.6 million, and continuing with the installation of the B&B Carousell and relighting of the Parachute Jump in the new Steeplechase Plaza this year.

The same can’t be said for adjacent property held onto by Thor CEO Joe Sitt. It became vacant after Thor acquired the land and evicted ride and park operators and remains vacant despite a history of various amusement operators efforts to negotiate lease deals. The latest project that never happened was Big Mark’s Action Park, which planned to bring a rock climbing wall, a vertical wind tunnel and other extreme attractions to Thor’s Stillwell lots in 2013. It’s a similar story as ATZ’s previous post “The New Coney Island: A Tale of Two Jones Walks” contrasting the activated City-owned and vacant Thor-owned sides of the Walk.

Bumble Bee Ride

Closed Forever in September 2012: Bumble Bees and Herschell Carousel at McCullough’s Kiddie Park, Coney Island, September 3, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

This week last year, ATZ was saying goodbye to McCullough’s Kiddie Park, which had been on Coney Island’s Bowery for more than 50 years. The McCullough family, descendants of Steeplechase Park founder George C Tilyou, were dismantling the Bumblebees and other rides and leaving Coney forever after failing to come to a lease agreement with property owner Thor Equities. Since then, the lot has remained vacant, just another one of Joe Sitt’s collection of interminably vacant lots in Coney Island.

What Michael Daly wrote in the Daily News in 2009 after the City bought Sitt’s Boardwalk property is still true today: “Sitt is the city’s most successful un-developer. He spoke grandly of building a billion-dollar Las Vegas-style resort. What he has built is a string of vacant lots, the most depressing being where Astroland amusement park stood until a year ago.” Just substitute McCullough’s for Astroland.

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: West 12th Street looking west. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

The sole building that Joe Sitt has built in Coney after years of real estate speculation is a temporary building at Surf and Stillwell with retail stores like It’Sugar and a Brooklyn Nets Shop but devoid of amusements. You’ve heard the phrase “dummy corporation” but did you know Thor Equities has introduced a new concept to Coney Island of dummy arcades? All season long, dummy arcade signs fronting empty space with “Retail Space Available” signs have made a mockery of the City’s 2009 rezoning requiring a percentage of amusements on the property.

The rest of Thor’s Coney properties and lots remain vacant today. Unlike 2007, when Sitt first evicted Batting Cage and Go Kart City as well as the Zipper ride, which is the subject of a riveting documentary, Coney Island’s vacant lots are no longer in the news. In 2008 and 2009, when the City was pushing the rezoning, Coney’s infamous vacant lots were mentioned by City officials as a reason for the rezoning. “THE END OF CONEY ISLAND IN 2009?,” said a “fact sheet” called “Coney Island Throughout The Ages” from the Coney Island Development Corporation. “Today, Coney Island is a ghost of its former self. Under the current zoning, amusement operators have divested, leaving illegal uses and vacant lots throughout the area.” Four years after the rezoning, the lots are still vacant with no end in sight.

Thor Equities

Thor Equities Retail Building with Tenants It’Sugar and Rainbow Shops and Dummy Arcade Sign Where No Arcade Exists. September 29, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

Photographs of newly created vacant lots like the ones in this post are rarely seen and illustrate the dark side of Bloomberg’s New Coney Island. Most people are happily snapping pictures of the new roller coasters and the crowds on the Boardwalk, which is as it should be. In fact, we’ve held off till the tail end of the season to post these depressing photos to avoid creating any bad publicity for Coney.

On the other hand, our photos of vacant lots are free advertising for Thor Equities, whose new website “Thor Equities Presents Coney Island” revives their “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” slogan: “Thor Equities presents a new retail opportunity at a scale New York hasn’t seen in years! ThorConeyIsland.com is a retailers ticket to joining the retail ride of a lifetime taking place in Coney Island.” The site touts such stats as “18 million people visit the beach every season” and “4.7 million subway riders visit Coney Island every year” to lure retailers. The leasing plan pitches Thor’s buildings including the Grashorn, Coney Island’s oldest building, which has been vacant since 2008, but not the long-vacant lots.

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island : Aerial view of vacant lots on south side of the Bowery between W 12th and W 15th Streets that formerly had amusements. July 7, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

While the subject of Coney Island’s vacant lots has dropped from the headlines, the question looms: What is the future of Thor Equities vacant lots and buildings in the next administration? Some of the property was rezoned to accommodate 30-story hotels and retail in the heart of the amusement area but still requires an amusement component. Putting up glittery arcade signs where there are no arcades is a slap in the face of the zoning requirement. Will the City enforce its own zoning? Will Sitt try to get a variance? Will he continue to “sit” on the land and wait for infrastructure improvements? Will he flip the property?

The Bumper Boats were on the Bowery at Stillwell until Joe Sitt evicted them in 2007. Photo by the hanner via flickr

The Bumper Boats and other amusements thrived at this location on Stillwell Ave until evicted by Thor Equities in 2007. May 29, 2005. Photo © the hanner via flickr

Will this land ever see amusements again? On Stillwell Avenue, where the Tornado Roller coaster (1927-1977), the Bobsled (1941-1974), and Stauch’s Baths and Dance Hall (1930-1998) once stood, Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City amused the zillions until Joe Sitt emptied out the amusements in 2007. Last year, NY1 reported Sitt’s plans to put a movie theater with stadium seating on his Stillwell lot behind Nathan’s was being held up by the fact that the theater required an amusement element to it. Rumor had it the city wanted him to put a ride on the roof. How cool would that be? As long as Sitt can’t be bothered to install the minimum amusements required by the new zoning in his first building in Coney Island — a couple of tiny arcades– don’t hold your breath.

Thor's Coney Island

Thor’s Coney Island: West 12th Street and Surf Avenue. Concession Stands and Bank of Coney Island Building Demolished in 2010. The 2009 Rezoning Allows 30 Story Hotels to be Built Here and Other Thor-owned Parcels. August 25, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Related posts on ATZ…

June 18, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Shoe Store Invades Amusement Area

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island

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

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Thor's Coney Island

Shoes galore at Rainbow Shops in Thor Equities Retail Ride of a Lifetime building in the New Coney Island. June 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The latest chain store to invade Coney Island’s amusement district has opened and it is neither “hip” nor “glitzy,” words used by the mainstream media in recent weeks to describe the chainification of Coney’s Surf Avenue. Over the weekend, Rainbow Shops, which sells discount clothing and shoes, opened on the Stillwell Avenue side of Thor Equities’ “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” Building, across the street from Nathan’s Famous. Shoot Out the Star, Basketball, Balloon Dart and Water Racing as well as the Fascination Arcade were among the amusements in the Henderson Building, which was on this corner until Thor CEO Joe Sitt demolished it in 2010.

This is the new retail building flaunting two ARCADE signs but no arcades, despite the fact that 15% of amusement frontage was required by zoning regulations to obtain the Certificate of Occupancy from the City. We wrote about this sham last week. The “ARCADES” remain vacant. Apparently, having an ARCADE in name only is fine with the City. Anything goes as long as Thor’s Coney Island has shoes galore!

ARCADE

ARCADE sign on Thor Equities Retail Building with No Arcade on Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island. June 1, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The 2,500 square foot Rainbow Shop, the maximum size allowed by the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009, is filled with aisle after aisle of shoes in shoeboxes, just like a warehouse outlet. It’s as if the store owners expected the “PEDESTRIANS GALORE” (“4.7 million subway riders visit Coney Island every year, 13 million people visit the beach every season and over 100,000 people visit Coney Island’s Luna Park on the 4th of July!”) touted in Thor Equities property description to arrive shoeless.

Flea by the Sea

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 2008, Thor Equities dismal flea market on the Coney lot where the Tornado Roller Coaster once thrilled had vendors selling clothing and shoes, both new and used. At the time, it was a reminder that Joe Sitt’s pitch book unsuccessfully used to lobby Borough President Marty Markowitz for 10,000 square foot retail touted flagship retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap/Banana Republic, and DSW (“Thousands of shoes…prices you love”). Now it appears to have been a dress rehearsal for Rainbow Shops. The Brooklyn-headquartered retailer has 28 stores in Brooklyn and over 1,000 locations nationwide.

Rainbow Shop

Rainbow Shop on Stillwell Ave opposite Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island. June 15, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Related posts on ATZ…

June 12, 2013: Thor’s Coney Island: Retail Ride of a Lifetime’s Phantom Arcade

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

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

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

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ARCADE

ARCADE sign on Thor Equities Building on Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island. June 1, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

When the shimmery signs for the new pop-up shops went up on Thor Equities’ retail building on Stillwell Avenue, a sign with larger lettering promising ARCADE and a Steeplechase Park Funny Face, Coney’s symbol of merriment, took center stage. But there is no amusement arcade with coin-operated games in Joe Sitt’s “Retail Ride of a Lifetime” Building in Coney Island. It’s a phantom. The door, decorated with a sign advertising Retail Space Available, leads to a vacant space, maybe 10 by 15 feet, that would fit several machines at the most. Sources tell ATZ the arcade use was required to obtain the C of O for the building from the City. Why not get it up and running? Joey Coney Island’s Arcade! There are actually two of these phantom arcades –one on the Stillwell Ave. side of the Building, the other on Surf next to It’Sugar candy chain.

Before the season got underway, at least three Coney Island amusement operators were approached to put games in the building. Sources say an agreement could not be reached because Thor wanted a high rent and the amusement operators proposed revenue sharing, which is standard for owners of arcade equipment placing machines in restaurants and retail locations. Ironically, all but one of the retail tenants in the new building are believed to have revenue-sharing arrangements in lieu of rent, according to the Coney Island Rumor Mill.

Surf and Stillwell

Thor Equities Retail Building at Surf and Stillwell, Coney Island. May 29, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On either side of the tiny nonexistent “arcade” are 2,500 square foot retail spaces, the maximum allowed by the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. However, the zoning requires that “At least 15 percent of the Stillwell Avenue and West 10th Street street frontage of any zoning lot shall be occupied by Use Group A1 uses at the ground floor level.” A measly 15 per cent! “A1″ includes amusement arcades as well as open booths with games of skill or chance, such as water racing and shooting galleries, which used to occupy the spot in the demolished Henderson Building where the Brooklyn Nets Shop is now.

Use Group C, which covers retail and service uses, is what we can expect to see more of in Thor’s Coney Island. The pop-up shops include clothing and T-shirt boutiques Wampum NY and Brooklyn Rocks, Coney Island Convenience Shop, and the Brooklyn Nets Shop on the Bowery. Candy retailer It’Sugar on Surf Avenue is believed to have a longer lease.

The next chain store to arrive in Coney Island’s amusement district is Rainbow, which sells clothing for juniors, plus sizes, and children, as well as shoes. They’re set to open on the Stillwell side of Thor’s building, across the street from Nathan’s Famous. The Brooklyn-headquartered retail chain has 28 other stores in Brooklyn and over 1,000 locations nationwide.

Other chains coming to Coney Island are Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets, Red Mango and Checkers franchises, which signed leases with various property owners on the north side of Surf Avenue. Until the early 1980′s that side of Surf was home to individually-owned penny arcades and a variety of rides including bumper cars, carousels and even a Jumbo Jet-style coaster. The last ride on the north side of Surf– Coney Island’s B & B Carousell —closed in 2005 and is now located in the new Steeplechase Plaza on the Boardwalk.

UPDATE June 13, 2013

Nobody ever said life was fair, but the first word that comes to mind here is DESPICABLE. Remember Maritza, who was evicted from Thor Equities soon-to-be demolished Henderson Building in 2010? She’s had a souvenir store in various spots in Coney for oh, about 25 to 30 years. ATZ wrote about her again in April when she moved her gift shop/convenience store into Thor’s Retail Ride of A Lifetime building (“Thor’s Coney Island: Evicted Souvenir Shop Returns to Its Spot,” ATZ, April 19, 2013).

Well, it turns out Maritza is the ONLY one in Thor’s building who is actually paying rent, in the tens of thousands of dollars, too. The veteran shopkeeper was not offered the 15 per cent of sales deal that the brand-name newcomers from small shops like Wampum NYC and Brooklyn Rocks to the chain It’Sugar and the Brooklyn Nets Store were given. Guess we’ll have to go back and update the December post about Joe Sitt’s press release “To Add Local Flavor To Coney Island By Leasing Major Surf Avenue Parcels To Local Brooklyn Merchants At Reduced Rents For 2013.” There’s nobody more local than Maritza. Rip up the lease and give her the break you’re giving everyone else, Joe!

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June 7, 2013: Coney Flea Market Coming to Childs Building on Boardwalk

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

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

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

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Coming to Coney

Coming to Coney: Candy and Gift Retailer It’Sugar. This store is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In 2011, Thor Equities put up new signage atop the blue construction fence at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, the gateway to Coney’s beach and Boardwalk amusement parks: “CONEY ISLAND – The RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME.” After eight years of real estate speculation and the rezoning of Coney, Thor CEO Joe Sitt’s retail ride finally begins this season. ATZ has learned exclusively from sources that candy retailer It’Sugar will be the first tenant at Thor’s new building at Surf and Stillwell. The plywood has come down from the boarded-up new building, which was completed last January, and interior construction of the corner store is underway for a May 3rd opening of It’Sugar Coney Island.

Coney Island building

Exiting Stillwell Terminal in the new Coney Island, the first sight one sees is Thor Equities generic looking new building. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Florida-based company was founded in 2006 and is “one of the largest and fastest growing specialty candy and gift retailers in the world with over 70 retail locations,” according to one of their press releases. ATZ went to the It’Sugar store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to check it out.

The place is pink ‘n’ yellow with a sparkly garnet floor and the music is blaring. It’s impossible not to smile at the sight of a supersized, one pound pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups and a one pound Hershey’s chocolate bar paired for Valentine’s Day until you look at the price tag — $40. There’s also a kiosk of old school candy like Necco Wafers and Goo Goo Clusters, jewelry that looks like sweets, T-shirts and novelty items.

Among the candy retailer’s other locations are the Atlantic City Boardwalk, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Universal Citywalk in California and malls from Alabama to the United Arab Emirates. There are also 22 “shops in shops” in Macy’s including Herald Square and such New York City tourist destinations as Madame Tussaud’s and Radio City Music Hall.

candy-inspired jewelry

Candy-inspired jewelry display at It’Sugar. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The upscale candy store will be the first sight visitors see when they exit Stillwell Terminal and will open in a Coney Island that is rapidly changing. Three national franchises– Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets and Red Mango–have signed leases for the north side of Surf Avenue, on property not owned by Thor. If you’re a regular reader of ATZ, you’ll know we’re not a fan of the plan to “revitalize” Coney Island by bringing in formula businesses and franchises. As we’ve written previously: Coney Island, the birthplace of the hot dog, the roller coaster, and the enclosed amusement park is famous for its quirky authenticity, but it’s about to look and taste more like Anyplace USA.

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June 10, 2013: Photo of the Day: Candy Treats at Coney Island Mom & Pop

December 24, 2012: In Thor’s Coney Island, Discount on Retail Ride of a Lifetime

December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

March 12, 2010: Photo of the Day: Williams Candy in Coney Island

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Coney Island building

View of Thor Equities Vacant Building from Stillwell Terminal in Coney Island on January 29, 2012. The building is currently boarded up with a plywood mural. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

A press release from Thor Equities offers potential good news for Brooklyn retailers and restaurateurs who’d like to open a pop-up store or get a foot in the door of the new Coney Island: “Thor To Add Local Flavor To Coney Island By Leasing Major Surf Avenue Parcels To Local Brooklyn Merchants At Reduced Rents For 2013.” The idea is to fully lease Joe Sitt’s new building at Surf and Stillwell for the summer of 2013.

Vacant since its unveiling last January, the sterile looking building was soon boarded up with plywood. It is currently dressed up with a Funny Face mural and a sign advertising “CONEY ISLAND – The RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME” with a phone number to call for leasing opportunities.

New Coney Island ‘Funny Face’ Mural on Thor Equities Building at Surf and Stillwell. May 28, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

As ATZ reported last week, Johnny Rockets, Red Mango and Applebee’s franchisees recently signed leases with property owners on the north side of Surf, where sources said the rent was one third the price of Thor’s building on the south side. How enticing is Thor’s rent reduction?

“While each location within the 15,000 square foot property is taken on a case-by-case basis, generally Sitt is reducing each unit in the vicinity of about 40 per cent,” Thor spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg told ATZ. “The building is divided into four storefronts. Three are vacant and one has been leased to a national company.” In addition, the Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade, which is a couple of doors away in a building purchased last year by Thor Equities, will also be the beneficiary of a rent reduction. This couldn’t have come at a better time since the Eldorado was damaged by Sandy and needs costly repairs to reopen.

Eldorado Auto Skooters

Eldorado Auto Skooters Sign by Steve Powers, Surf Avenue in Coney Island. September 5, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On December 15th, Thor Equities filed plans with the Department of Buildings for general construction for a new retail build-out inclusive of partitions and installation of mechanical equipment, duct work and plumbing fixtures. The original floorplan for 1232 Surf promised more than a dozen spaces including a row of 250-square-foot spaces on the Bowery side, outdoor seating on Henderson Walk and a 3,050 square foot roof deck.

Thor is teaming up with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to help recruit tenants, according to Chamber president Carlo Scissura. “This program is especially important in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and will go a long way in making sure that Coney Island remains a vibrant neighborhood and tourist attraction as well as a place where small businesses can thrive and Brooklynites can get jobs,” said Scissura.

Coney Island building

Thor’s Coney Island: Stillwell Avenue side of Joe Sitt’s new building. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The biggest surprise of the press release was what Thor CEO Joe Sitt had to say about chains vs local businesses: “Coney Island’s popularity has reached record proportions, but we can never forget what got us here – local, ahead-of-their-time business owners who brought flair, hipness and edge to the People’s Playground,” Sitt said. “While it is wonderful that national chains are now coming to Coney, providing needed jobs and year-round revenue to the community, we must always remember the history of this iconic neighborhood.”

In the documentary “Zipper,” Joe Sitt reads a list of national chains that he wants to bring to the new Coney Island. It sounds like Any Vacation Spot USA: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Dave and Buster’s, Hard Rock, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Howie’s Game Factory, Build-A-Bear Workshop. Has Sitt, who was reviled in 2008 as the Grinch who stole Coney Island for locking out small business owners on Christmas Eve, evolved into a Santa for Mom-and-Pops? Hey, we hope so. Only time and the new building’s tenants will tell.

Thinkwell rendering

Thinkwell’s rendering for Thor’s Temporary One-Story Building in Coney Island. April 2010

The one-story building at 1232 Surf Avenue is Thor Equities’ first new construction in Coney Island. It was built on the site of the century-old Henderson Music Hall, which was doomed when the City rezoned the parcel for a high-rise “hotel” in July 2009. The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission denied landmark designation and also declined to create a historic district, which would have created tax incentives to rehab the building.

Henderson’s began as a restaurant at Bowery and Henderson Walk in 1881 and included a music hall featuring such music and vaudeville acts as Al Jolson, the Marx Brothers, and Sophie Tucker. From 1926 to 1984, the building housed the World in Wax Musee. Tenants who lost their leases after Thor bought the property or due to the demolition in 2010 include the Velocity Nightclub and Popeye’s Chicken, which has since relocated to the Popper Building. The Fascination arcade owner moved his business (renamed Game World) to another Thor-owned property on Surf.

Faber's Fascination

Last Night at Faber’s, Coney Island. September 6, 2010. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

One of the saddest losses was the Fascination Arcade’s bare bulb sign which dated back to the 1930s. It was illuminated year-round and was a welcome sight to see upon exiting Stillwell Terminal. Also missed are the individually owned concession games like Shoot Out The Star, Balloon Raceing [sic] and the Balloon Dart on the Stillwell and Bowery sides of the building. Is there anyone besides this former carny kid and game operator who is going to lament the fact that these old school amusements are gone forever from this corner of Coney Island?

Baloon Dart

Balloon Dart, on the Bowery in Coney Island.May 26, 2008. This game did not reopen in 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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December 19, 2012: Will Coney Island’s Surf Ave Become a Mecca for Franchises?

November 20, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Mini-Golf or Roller Rink to Replace Denny’s?

October 7, 2012: ATZ’s Big Wish List for the New Coney Island

September 12, 2010: Video: Coney Island’s Faber’s Fascination by Charles Denson

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