Popeyes Chicken is returning to the south side of Coney Island’s Surf Avenue after more than a year’s absence. The owner has leased the first floor of the Popper Building at 1220 Surf Avenue, just a few doors down from his previous location and has started renovations. The restaurant owner had been in business year-round in Coney Island for 27 years when he lost his lease in the now-demolished Henderson Building at the corner of Surf and Stillwell. The Thor Equities-owned property was one of four lots in Coney Island rezoned by the City for high rise hotels, which set the stage for Thor’s evictions of longtime businesses and demolition of historic buildings.
The popular fried chicken and biscuit restaurant served its last supper at midnight on August 24, 2010. A previously reported deal to lease space in a proposed new restaurant building on the north side of Surf fell through after Horace Bullard sold the property instead of leasing it.
The Popper Building has a distinctive old copper sign that says “Herman Popper & Bro.” Though it does not have landmark designation, the building as well as its original owner have a colorful history. Herman Popper was a whiskey distiller and wholesale liquor seller who once supplied most of the Bowery dives and concert halls. His business extended to Sundays, though selling liquor on the Lord’s Day was then illegal. When his friend John “Boss” McKane was tried in 1894 for conspiracy, Popper was called to testify since he had been in charge of one of McKane’s “paster” booths in a notorious ballot-box stuffing scheme. “Yes sir,” he said when the City attorney asked “Isn’t your Coney Island place open on Sunday?,” according to a report in the New York Times. “The witness got tangled up at once, and wanted to take back his answer.” Finally he acknowledged he ‘received orders’ on Sunday, as directed by John McKane.
The Popper’s most recent first floor tenants were a group of homegrown flea market vendors, some of whom have found new locations in the neighborhood. The building was home to a Carvel ice cream shop from the mid 1970’s through about 1995, according to former Playland arcade operator Stan Fox. He also remembers a greyhound racing game and other games at the location. The art dealer who has owned the building since 1998 occupies the second floor. Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York popped in for a visit in the summer of 2009.