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Rita's Coney Island

Rita’s Coney Island on Surf Avenue and West 15th Street. April 9, 2016.

Rita’s Italian Ice on Surf Avenue across from the Thunderbolt roller coaster has a new owner, Joseph DeAngelis, and a brand-new schedule. It is no longer closed for the Jewish Sabbath – from dusk on Friday until sundown on Saturday– and is now open 7 days a week. That means you can get a frozen custard for the first time on Fireworks Fridays and on Saturday afternoons. Hours are noon to 10:00pm, with later hours during the summer months.

Two years ago, this Rita’s franchise brought back frozen custard, one of Coney Island’s lost delights, to its place of origin. The dessert made its debut in 1919 when the Kohr brothers opened a stand on the Coney Island Boardwalk, selling 18,460 cones for a nickel apiece on the first weekend! Kohr’s Frozen Custard is still in business on the Boardwalks at Seaside Heights and Casino Pier on the Jersey Shore but Kohr’s has shown no interest in making a Coney Island comeback. Businesses in Coney which sell ice cream, gelato or soft serve hadn’t made any move to bring back frozen custard either, despite the recommendations of old-timers.

“Rita’s products are prepared under Star-K Kosher supervision and non-dairy is still pareve,” says DeAngelis, who is one of the franchise’s top operators, with five locations in New York’s Dutchess County. The Coney Island store has a clientele that reaches beyond seasonal visitors to the amusement area. It was a destination for Jewish residents of Brooklyn seeking kosher ices, nevertheless the business was struggling, according to DeAngelis. He was brought in by Rita’s to make a success of the location. Unlike the previous owners, who were observant Jews, DeAngelis is Catholic and does not have to close for Shabbat.

The storefront got a fresh coat of paint and has already opened for the season, but DeAngelis says he’s planning a grand-re-opening celebration. Rita’s offers Italian ice, frozen custard, layered gelati, sundaes with a choice of toppings, sugar-free treats, and trademark items that blend Italian ice with frozen custard. The business is among a growing number of national and international franchises and chains leasing space on high-priced Surf Avenue in the new Coney Island.

Frozen custard

Frozen custard from Rita’s Italian Ice. Photo via Facebook.com/RitasItalianIceCompany

Coney Art Walls Marie Roberts

Coney Art Walls Mural painted by Marie Roberts in 2015 will be replaced by a new Roberts mural this season.

Coney Art Walls, an art project curated by Jeffrey Deitch that turned Thor Equities’ vacant lot behind Nathan’s into a pop culture destination last summer will be back in 2016. Seven murals painted on concrete, will stay for another season. Most of the other walls have been sandblasted and are blank canvases awaiting a new group of artists set to begin painting this spring.

“We are working on the artist line up for Coney Art Walls upcoming season,” Ethel Seno, who manages and coordinates the project for Jeffrey Deitch, told ATZ.

Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls

Curator Jeffrey Deitch at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The art walls are interspersed with colorful shipping containers that housed Red Hook Lobster Pound, Home Frites, Bon Chovie and several other Smorgasburg vendors last summer. The cafe tables and chairs amid the art walls were a welcome amenity in Coney Island where there is a dearth of public seating. Thor Equities is close to finalizing an agreement to bring a new food operator because Smorgasburg will not be sending its vendors to Coney Island in 2016. “Not this year for us,” Eric Demby, co-founder of Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg told ATZ.

26096965360_a602fc4c02

Smorgasburg vendors Blue Marble Ice Cream and New Yorkina in shipping container pop-ups at Coney Art Walls. May 23, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Last year, Thor’s vacant lot across the street, bounded by Stillwell Avenue and West 12th Street, hosted a popular trapeze school, wrestling matches and other entertainments, and an outdoor cafe. A banner advertising the lot for lease went up in the middle of March. On Thursday, some heavy machinery was brought it to break up the asphalt, lending credence to the idea that we heard from the Coney Island Rumor Mill. A go kart track is said to be the next new thing there, and possibly a miniature golf course.

If it turns out to be true, it’s great news and proof that everything old is new again in Coney Island. Go karts and mini golf were among the amusements evicted by Thor CEO Joe Sitt when he first bought the property in 2007.

As for Thor Equities newly acquired properties on the Bowery, sources tell ATZ the mom and pop concessionaires and food operators got a new lease with only a slight rent increase – due in three payments– but the cost of their insurance policy has tripled. Please patronize Coney Island’s independent operators this summer!

Thor Equities lot

Thor Equities lot on West 12th Street may get a go kart track. March 10, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s

“No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s” — Nelson Rockefeller

The presidential candidates ate cheese curds in Wisconsin, now it’s time to chow down on hot dogs in Coney Island! As New York’s three-term Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, famously said in 1966, “No one can hope to be elected in this state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous.”

Last April, when Hillary Clinton announced her campaign headquarters would be in Brooklyn, we anticipated she’d soon show up at Nathan’s for her photo op. What is she waiting for?

Now that the New York Primary is competitive for the first time in decades and Nathan’s is celebrating its 100th anniversary, a trip to the People’s Playground is required to establish her Brooklyn bona fides.

For Bernie Sanders, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, and moved to Vermont in his 20’s, being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s and shaking hands with locals would be seen as a homecoming. UPDATE: April 8th… It looks like Bernie will be the first! We have confirmation that Bernie will be on the Coney Island Boardwalk for a 2pm rally on Sunday with security check-in beginning at 11am! 

Though Donald Trump is a native New Yorker, don’t expect to see him belly up to the counter at Nathan’s. There is absolutely such a thing as bad publicity. The Donald’s presence in Coney Island would occasion mention of the horrible damage his father Fred Trump wreaked here 50 years ago. See the exhibit at the Coney Island History Project this summer: “The 50th Anniversary of Fred Trump’s Demolition of the Steeplechase Pavilion.”

Today, Ted Cruz went to a matzoh bakery in Brighton Beach and also to Coney Island, according to a tweet from the 60th Precinct. It’s sheer cluelessness of “New York Values” that he got this close and skipped Nathan’s. Meanwhile at Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, John Kasich showed an appetite worthy of a competitor in Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The tradition of New York politicians making a campaign stop at Nathan’s has encompassed governors, mayors, attorneys general, comptrollers and city council presidents. In an iconic photo taken at Nathan’s Famous, Nelson Rckefeller and the state’s attorney general, Lewis Lefkowitz, are seen enthusiastically eating the famous franks. “They campaigned aggressively in overwhelmingly Democratic Coney Island in 1966,” according to Gastropolis: Food and New York City. “They ate countless hot dogs and shook hands for hours in what was their most successful day on the campaign trail.”

In the previously unpublished photo below from the archive of Famous Nathan director Lloyd Handwerker, Nathan welcomes the Democratic candidates in the 1961 municipal election to his hot dog emporium. Robert F. Wagner for Mayor, Abe Beame for Comptroller, and Paul R. Screvane for President of the City Council went on to defeat the Republicans.

Campaigning at Nathan's

1961 Democratic candidates Robert F. Wagner for Mayor, Abe Beame for Comptroller, and Paul R. Screvane for President of the City Council campaigning at Nathan’s. Photo © Lloyd Handwerker Archive. FamousNathan.com

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons calling me in to his new balloon dart under construction on Jones Walk. March 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We’re sad to report that James Carchiolo, affectionately known in Coney Island as Jimmy Balloons, has passed away. He had been at Coney Island Hospital for four weeks and was about to be moved to a hospice. Jimmy is among the few remaining old-timers operating games in Coney Island. He was 71 years old and was a game operator in Coney for over 50 years.

ATZ has taken many photos of Jimmy and his Balloon Dart over the years at various locations, including two spots on the Bowery and on Jones Walk under the Wonder Wheel “Thrills” sign. The spot long occupied by his Balloon Dart in the century-old Henderson Building, demolished by Thor Equities in 2010, is now the Brooklyn Nets Shop in Thor’s retail building. That fact pretty much sums up why indie game operators are disappearing from the new Coney Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy’s Balloon Dart in the Henderson Building on the Bowery, May 26, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

Born and raised in Coney Island, Jimmy was a survivor who relocated from the Henderson to property leased by Manny Cohen’s Coney Island Arcade, where Target the Coney Island Cat helped him call people in to play. After Manny lost his lease, Jimmy moved in 2013 to a spot on Jones Walk owned by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Sadly, this year for the first time in his long career in Coney, Jimmy missed operating his Balloon Dart on Opening Day. Rest in peace, Jimmy Balloons. You will be missed.

Visitation will be Sunday, April 3rd, 2-5pm and 7-10pm at the Cusimano & Russo Funeral Home, 2005 West 6th Street, Brooklyn. The Funeral Mass will be on Monday, 10:00 am at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace, 2866 West 17th Street, Coney Island. Interment to follow in the Cemetery of the Resurrection, Staten Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons with Target the Coney Island cat at his location on the Bowery. June 20, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

Feed the Clown Game Coney Island

Feed the Clown Game, West 12th Street in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Skin the Wire, Feed the Clown, Roll-A-Coaster! Game of skill operators are needed for the 2016 season at these independent games on West 12th Street off the Coney Island Boardwalk. As a former carny kid who grew up working games on the midway, ATZ highly recommends this unique and formative job experience. And next time they call you in to play the games at San Gennaro or the state fair, you’ll be a full-fledged carny and can reply “I’m with it!”

Qualification::
–Games require manual dexterity
–Proficiency in addition. One game requires adding numbers
–Personable, outgoing and good with people
–Ability to describe and explain the games and merchandise to customers

The games open March 20 March 25 and are open weekends and school holidays in the spring and fall, as well as some evenings in May. The daily schedule kicks in Memorial Day Weekend and runs through Labor Day Weekend. Hours and scheduling are flexible. The rate of pay starts at $10 per hour and goes up as the operator masters each of the three games.

Apply in person or leave a reply below and ATZ will forward it to the game’s owner.

Games on W 12th St, Coney Island

skin the wire and Feed the Clown Games on West 12th Street, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Coney Island’s Opening Day ceremonies have been rescheduled for Saturday, March 26th, due to snow forecast for Palm Sunday. The parks will also be open March 25th, Good Friday, and March 27th, Easter Sunday.

In prep for Coney Island’s opening day on March 20th, the Wonder Wheel’s 24 cars were put back on the landmark ride on Friday. As we’ve noted in past years, the annual ritual is regarded as the first sign of spring in Coney Island. Being there to see the cars go up, the swinging blue and red ones first and then the stationary white, is like seeing crocuses bloom before your eyes.

This year, videographer Jim McDonnell recorded a wonderful up-close, behind-the-scenes look at the Vourderis family and their longtime crew returning the freshly painted and refurbished cars to the Wheel after the ride’s winter rest. At the 46 second mark, look for Wonder dog Ringo, park co-owner Steve Vourderis’s pet, cutely supervising. Ringo enjoys riding the Wheel and is no doubt anticipating his first ride of the season. So are we!

Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the rest of Coney Island’s rides will go for their first spin of the 2016 season on Palm Sunday, which also happens to be the first day of spring this year, and is just eight days away. The 31st annual Blessing of the Rides at Wonder Wheel Park starts at 11:00am. After the ceremony, there will be free rides for 300 children from the local Salt and Sea Mission, and free rides on Deno’s Wonder Wheel for the first 96 people on line in celebration of the 1920 Wheel’s 96th year.

Deno's Wonder Wheel

Wonder Wheel dog Ringo supervising the return of the cars to the Wheel. March 11, 2016. Photo © Jim McDonnell

Monica

Monica, the High Striker Queen of Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island’s High Striker Queen is the first victim of the City’s scheme to use eminent domain to acquire six privately owned lots for “the revitalization of Coney Island.” One of the lots is the location where Monica and her partner Jeff ran their popular Mom & Pop “hit the hammer, ring the bell” game for the past four seasons. In an interview with ATZ, our crying and distraught friend said that on Sunday, just three weeks before Coney’s opening day, she was told by a rep of 12th Street Amusements that she could not set up this year. “I’m heartbroken. If I can’t find another place, I’m going to leave Coney Island for the last time.”

“Block 8696, parts of lot 140” at 3025 West 12th Street is owned by the Murray family and has been used for amusements for over 100 years, according to testimony by Carol Murray at the October 19, 2015 eminent domain hearing, as ATZ previously reported (“Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land,” ATZ, October 20. 2015).

The Bloomberg administration was right to back off from the idea of taking land by condemnation from Thor Equities and other Coney Island property owners during the rezoning hearings in 2009. Under sharp questioning by City Council land use committee members, the NYCEDC’s Seth Pinsky was forced to admit, “I’m not saying we will use eminent domain, but in fairness to your question, I’m not saying we won’t.” In order to get Council members to agree to vote for the zoning, the NYCEDC instead had to negotiate an agreement to buy property from Thor Equities. At the same time, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and other property owners were no longer threatened by E.D.

Block 8696 parts of lot 140

Block 8696, parts of lot 140 on West 12th Street. The area marked in red, where the Ghost Hole is located and the High Striker was until recently, is to be taken by eminent domain. October 19, 2015

Now the de Blasio administration plans to take this piece of land by condemnation to complete Wonder Wheel Way, a pedestrian walkway hatched by city planners and enshrined in the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. The idea is to connect the landmark Parachute Jump, Wonder Wheel and Cyclone. But the walkway would cut through 12th Street Amusements, as well as Wonder Wheel Park and Luna Park, forcing the removal or relocation of rides and attractions in its path, including 12th Street’s Ghost Hole and the indie High Striker.

Twelfth Street Amusement’s Guerrero family, who own and operate the Polar Express, Ghost Hole and two other rides, have a long-term lease on the Murray property and since 2012 had sublet the southernmost corner of it to Monica and Jeff for their High Striker. Just prior to the October 2015 hearing, Monica and her partner were forced to cut short the season and remove all of their equipment.

Ghost Hole

12th Street Amusements’ Ghost Hole and Monica’s High Striker are in the path of the City’s proposed extension of Wonder Wheel Way. October 11, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

“Up until today, I was led to believe there was a chance I could come back. Now I’m left scrambling,” said Monica, who has been displaced before due to changes in land ownership, yet she always managed to come back. When ATZ worked a game on Jones Walk in 2008, Monica was a few doors down. She had locations on the Bowery prior to moving to West 12th Street. Now however, Monica says: “There’s very limited space available for us. Because of people buying up property, there’s next to nothing.”

ATZ asked attorney Jennifer Polovetsky, whose law firm Sanchez & Polovetsky handles eminent domain cases, including the last holdouts at Atlantic Yards, whether displaced subtenants as well as tenants are eligible for compensation. “It depends on the terms of the lease and whether there are eligible trade fixtures,” said Polovetsky. “There’s not a blanket rule.”

Wonder Wheel Way

Wonder Wheel Way is a work in progress. Section between Stillwell Ave and West 15th St used as a parking lot for Luna Park. October 11, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

January 28, 2016: EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Persily Recalls Family’s Coney Island Years After Sale of Property to Thor Equities

November 9, 2015: Thor Equities Buying 3 Lots on Coney Island’s Bowery, Mom & Pops Await Rent Increase Amid Rumors of Hotel

October 20, 2015: Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

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