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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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Grandma and Zoltar

Grandma’s Predictions and Zoltar at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island, July 2012

The venerable, circa 1923 “Grandma’s Predictions” has been telling fortunes under Coney Island’s 1920 Wonder Wheel all her life. A couple of seasons ago a brand-new Zoltar was brought in to keep her company and proved very popular with visitors to the arcade. Hurricane Sandy soaked both of them, and decapitated poor Zoltar. A new Zoltar Speaks machine was promptly ordered and is already here, but Grandma, an irreplaceable antique as well as a good luck charm for the three generations of the Vourderis family who have owned the park, was sent off to be restored.

Last night these riveting videos of Grandma’s wax head getting “eye surgery” at National Jukebox Exchange appeared on YouTube. The octogenarian tarot card reader is also getting new wax hands cast from the original mold, according to arcade restorer John Papa. He appears in the video along with fellow arcade restorer Bob Yorburg, who told ATZ that Grandma will get a new wig, dress and cabinet, too. The rare arcade piece is known as the “Cleveland Grandma” by collectors since she was built by the William Gent Manufacturing Company in Cleveland, “Grandma’s Predictions” is expected to come home to Coney Island on Mother’s Day, where a welcome home party will be held at Deno’s Wonder Wheel.

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August 15, 2011: Games: Where You Can Play Vintage Pinball Year Round

October 10, 2010: Traveler: Where You Can Play Fascination Year Round

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Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat

Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We’re sad to report that our friend Manny Cohen, longtime owner of Coney Island Arcade, and his beloved and much photographed cat Target are about to leave Coney Island forever. As ATZ reported previously, they’re moving to Vegas. Last week we took a few farewell photos but put off saying goodbye. After 22 years, Manny was evicted by the landlord (no, not Thor Equities) and has until the end of the month to leave his spot on Coney Island’s Bowery. The car with Target’s roomy traveling cage and a harness for walks in rest areas along the way is packed. Manny’s boxer machines have already been shipped West. “It’s time for me to move on. I don’t have the arcade anymore,” Manny told ATZ in February.

Burned-out lot

Arcade machines damaged by Sandy on the burned out lot where Coney Island Arcade stood until the May 2010 fire. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Since May of 2010, when a terrible fire destroyed his amusement arcade on the day that workers sent by the landlord tarred the roof, Manny’s business has focused on selling new arcade machines and parts, which he will continue to do in Vegas. He has also operated a few games on the Bowery. ATZ’s very first post, on April 9, 2009, featured a favorite photo of Target on the counter of the Balloon Dart. Goodbyes are hard. Instead, we’ll look back at some of what we’ve written over the years.

When we started working in Coney Island, Target the Cat was already sitting on the counter of Jimmy’s Balloon Dart on the Bowery calling the people in to play. Some girls can’t walk by without stopping to pet him and ask his name. Next thing you know they’re busting balloons and winning prizes. The gregarious cat is world-famous thanks to having posed for many photographs including one that appeared in the New York Times.

Target and his late sister Targeretty were born at Spook-A-Rama in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. When a worker heard mewing and went to investigate, he found the motherless kittens. They were kept warm with a portable heater and fed with a dropper. Two weeks later, Manny Cohen adopted them and raised them at the arcade.
—from “Landlord Evicting Famous Coney Island Cat and His Humans,” ATZ, January 14, 2013

Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat

Manny Cohen and Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Will Coney Island Arcade be rebuilt and back in business anytime soon? We hope so. It’s painful to see a burned out building where a thriving business was just last weekend. It will be painful to see this corner become an empty lot. The fire is a huge loss, not only for Manny Cohen, but for the entire amusement community in Coney Island. We hope the building owner takes a cue from the activity just down the street, where workers are laboring round the clock to finish the new Luna Park in time for the May 29th grand opening. — “Photo Album: Coney Island Arcade Fire’s Awful Aftermath,” ATZ, May 7, 2010

In Coney Island, Target has used at least two of his nine lives. He escaped the arcade fire when the firemen cut the gates. They found his sister Targeretty in the office where she probably died of smoke inhalation. Target and his feline friend Pretty survived the flood waters of Sandy by climbing up to the rafters where they were marooned for days until the electric lock could be picked. We wish Manny Cohen and his lucky cat all the best in their new home. We’ll especially miss taking photos of Target working the Balloon Dart with Jimmy, asking to be petted and rubbing his face against the lens. Will the famous Coney Island Cat miss Coney? In Las Vegas, Target will prowl the casinos on a leash and hunt chipmunk, says Manny.

Target the Cat

Last Lens Nuzzle from Target the Cat. April 18, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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July 21, 2009: Target the Coney Island Arcade Cat Introduces His Sister Targeretty

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Playland Arcade

Remaining Playland Letters Saved by the Coney Island History Project. February 14, 2013. Photo © Coney Island History Project

The demolition of Coney Island’s Playland Arcade got underway in October, but was interrupted by Sandy. The job was finished today. It’s gone!

Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project managed to save the remaining letters on the facade– L, N and D– and several of the whimsical yet deteriorating murals. “Our previous efforts at preservation were hampered by trespassers, vandals, black mold, the untimely death of Playland’s caretaker, Andy Badalamenti, as well as Superstorm Sandy,” according to a photo album on the History Project’s Facebook page. The artifacts will be exhibited this season.

An arcade existed in the Playland building from the 1930s until 1981, operated by four sets of brothers over a fifty year period. In 1981 the arcade machines were auctioned and the business closed, leaving Playland vacant for the past thirty years.

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PLayland Arcade

Playland Arcade Building, August 12, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Demolition began today of the long vacant Playland Arcade, which has been closed since 1981. The interior walls were gutted by a demo crew using a small bulldozer. Asbestos removal is slated for Thursday with the exterior walls expected to come down soon afterwards.

ATZ asked former arcade operator and Coney Island regular Stan Fox, who operated Playland with his brother from 1957 until 1971, how he felt seeing the last of the arcade. “As I would walk by the empty arcade thousands of times over the years, in my mind’s eye I would see the ghosts of people who worked in Playland,” said Fox. “I would hear the sound of Skee-Ball going up and down the alleys, the ka-chunk of the plates rolling over, the ding-ding of the pinball machines and the jingling of coins being emptied into change bags.”

Owned by Horace Bullard, the Playland building was posted with a City-issued demolition order in September. Bullard is also the owner of the adjacent Thunderbolt lot, which has been vacant since the City tore down the roller coaster in 2000. In recent days, City workers cleared weeds from the lot. Bullard also owns the landmarked Shore Theater, which is for sale for $13.5 million.

An arcade operated in the Playland building from the 1930s until 1981, according to Stan Fox, who grew up working in his brother’s penny arcades in Coney Island. He says the arcades were operated by four sets of brothers over a 50-year period: the Silver brothers (Silver’s Penny Arcade), the Katz brothers (Star Penny Arcade), Alex Elowitz and Stan Fox (Playland Arcade), and the Getlan brothers, who kept the Playland name.

Alex Elowitz got his start in the arcade business working as a 12-year old change boy for the Silver brothers, says Fox. After a stint in the Army, Alex returned to Coney Island and in 1949 opened his first Playland Arcade on 20th Street and the Boardwalk in the Washington Baths building. Playlands at 15th Street and the Boardwalk and 12th Street and the Boardwalk (where Nathan’s is now) followed.

In 1957, Alex and Stan opened their fourth Playland Arcade in the building currently under demolition. They bought the business from the surviving Katz brother for $50,000 and leased the building from Klein and Moran, who also owned the Thunderbolt. “Rent for the whole season was $15,000 in 1957,” says Fox. “In those days 10th Avenue between 42nd and 49th Streets was Coin Machine Row. We ordered a ton of new equipment and renovated the place.” The brothers operated the arcade until 1977, when they sold the business to the Getlan brothers. In 1981 the arcade machines were auctioned and the business closed, leaving Playland vacant for the past thirty years.

UPDATE February 14, 2013:

The demolition of Coney Island’s Playland Arcade, which got underway in October, was interrupted by SuperStorm Sandy. The job was finished today. It’s gone! Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project managed to save the remaining letters on the facade– L, N and D– and several of the murals. An exhibit is scheduled for this summer.

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Wizard of Oz arcade

Luna Park’s New Arcade on Surf Avenue. June 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

These photos taken over the weekend in Coney Island show what’s new since our last report (“New Club Atlantis, MegaWhirl Ride Open in Coney Island,” ATZ, June 25) as well as ongoing construction on Jones Walk and the Boardwalk. As previously reported, Luna Park’s new state-of-the-art arcade, which takes only Luna cards, opened on Surf Avenue in the former Astroland Arcade. There were too many people crowded out front on Mermaid Day to get a good shot of this fantabulous Wizard of Oz crane and claw machine. What a showpiece! Selling for $50,000, the new, movie-themed moneymaker from Belgian manufacturer Elaut is the first-ever automatic coin pusher and the highest priced arcade machine of its kind in the world.

Jones Walk Coney Island

Under Construction: East Side of Jones Walk. June 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The east side of Jones Walk was leased to Luna Park in the spring after the City evicted longtime tenants and issued a Request for Proposals. Word on the street is that the first new stand, a Laser Maze, is expected to debut on July 4, with the rest of the stalls ready to open by mid- to late July. Four of the stands are expected to be games operated by Zamperla and four were leased to subtenants for food and shops, according to sources.

Word also that Zito’s Sandwich Shoppe of Park Slope, which recently expanded to a second location in the North Slope, will not be coming to Coney Island’s Jones Walk as announced in April. That’s disappointing because we were looking forward to picnicking on the Boardwalk with their chicken parm.

ATZ phoned Zito’s Marcello Bucca for confirmation. “Word on the street is correct,” he said. “They were not ready for us.” He said that Zamperla received financing at the end of June, later than they expected, thus delaying construction. The rehabbed Jones Walk stalls were originally slated to open on Memorial Day. Asked if Zito’s Sandwich Shoppe planned to open a location in Coney Island next season, Marcello said he hoped so, because so many people have been calling to ask about the new Coney Island location. “Ideally we’ll see what opens up. Right now it’s a no-go for this year.”

Tom's Restaurant Coney Island

Under Construction: Tom’s Restaurant, Coney Island Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue. June 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The gut rehab by Tom’s Restaurant of Prospect Heights of the Boardwalk store at the corner of Stillwell Avenue is still underway. By the looks of the construction, it won’t be ready till late July, if then. The former location of Nathan’s and Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis (as well as the original Club Atlantis) required by far the most work and investment of any of the rehabbed Boardwalk stores. Due to structural issues, the place had to be completely gutted and rebuilt, including the roof and some of the brickwork. Windows were installed in the west wall. A new roof deck for alfresco dining will have spectacular views of the beach and boardwalk. When completed, Tom’s initially expects to remain open approximately nine months of the year.

Tom's Coney Island

Tom’s Restaurant’s Food Tent, Coney Island Boardwalk. June 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Since Memorial Day Weekend, Tom’s has had a tent set up on weekends in front of their future restaurant. You can buy Hot Dogs, Sausage and more adventurous fare like Shrimp Scampi and a Shrimp Chipotle Salad Sandwich, as well as cold drinks.

Across Stillwell Avenue, construction is also underway on Zamperla’s Place to Beach Bar, which is adjacent to Scream Zone’s new Sky Coaster and Go-Karts. The site is the former Steve’s Grill House and Beer Island.

Basketball Coney Island

Open for Business: Ray’s Basketball on Coney Island’s Bowery. June 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Yay for Ray’s Basketball on Coney Island’s Bowery! His concession stand is no longer “fenced off” and will be able to do biz on 4th of July. Ray finally managed to open on Friday for the first time this season after the chain link fence next to his awning was opened. City regulations had kept the fences closed, even after Cha Cha’s Steeplechase Park opened last weekend. Note the portable fencing placed in front of the basketball game, probably as per the letter of the law.

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