In 2011, Coney Island’s now decimated Stillwell Avenue will get a brand new amusement park called Scream Zone. Will its neighbor be one of the City’s largest flea markets? Coney Island is abuzz with the rumor that vendors from the popular Aqueduct Racetrack Flea Market, which has 1,000 vendors and lost its lease after 30 years, are collectively eyeing Thor Equities’ empty lots.
Sources tell ATZ that some of the vendors, who operate three days a week at the racetrack, were informed that negotiations were underway with Thor Equities to lease the property. When ATZ called Plain and Fancy Shows, the company that operates the flea, to confirm the story, the person who answered the phone denied any interest in coming to Coney Island. To be clear, the Coney Island Rumor Mill says it is not the operator, but individuals who helped manage the flea market and know how to run such a business, who are trying to put together the deal.
The flea market folks are reportedly eyeing the lots on both sides of Stillwell formerly occupied by Thor’s failed Flea by the Sea. The skeletal frames of the tents have stood vacant since September 2009. The tenting became tattered and unsightly and was removed after numerous complaints. The asking price for the lease is rumored to be $300K for the season. Also said to be of interest to the flea market: The newly vacant lot at Surf Avenue and 12th Street, which was the site of the recently demolished Bank of Coney Island, across from Coney Island USA’s freak show. The corner of Surf and Stillwell, where the Shore Hotel was knocked down and the Henderson Building is currently being demolished. ATZ was told that the organizers of the new flea would place vendors of like items together to drive traffic to each location. Clothing, beauty products, household items and collectibles are among the categories of products.
The lots remained vacant last season after Thor Equities failed to come to an agreement to lease the property to a number of amusement operators, including a fair producer from Tennessee. ATZ learned that some of the same amusement operators are still interested in bringing in rides, games and shows. The main hurdle to a deal is said to be Thor’s insistence on a one-year lease. One amusement operator told ATZ that he needs a two-year deal to make a profit.
In the Summer of 2009, Thor’s so-called Festival By the Sea (aka Flea by the Sea) was billed as “A Uniquely Entertaining and Amusing Flea Market in Coney Island.” In order to get a DOB permit for a “temporary fair” after the “flea market” was denied, Thor promised “tons of fun” and tried to recruit strolling entertainers via craigslist. But the only entertainment we recall seeing was a clown making balloon toys and bands playing a couple of sets on weekends.
The Queens flea market has to leave the Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park after more than 30 years because of construction of a video slot casino. Around this time of year, vendors get tickets with their location number for next year’s flea market, which would have opened in March, after taking off January and February. Instead they got the news that December would be their last month.
According to an article in last Thursday’s New York Times, Betty Braton, the chairwoman of the Ozone Park neighborhood’s Community Board 10, said: “The casino operation is an attempt to go upscale, and a flea market is by nature sort of downscale. We’re looking forward to the economic development that is going to come from the casino operation.”
Would the Bloomberg administration, whose plan for the revitalization of Coney Island includes allowing Mom & Pop businesses to be evicted from City-owned property on the Boardwalk to make way for upscale eateries, approve a permit for a flea market? It is after all made up of hundreds of Mom & Pops. We’ll see. Or maybe we won’t.
If a flea market or amusement rides (or some combination of the two) are going to be Scream Zone’s neighbors on Stillwell in 2011, the biggest challenge will be signing a lease agreement with Thor Equities. When Joe Sitt acquired the property in 2006, he promptly evicted the batting cages, go karts and miniature golf, and turned Stillwell into what blogger Bob Guskind of Gowanus Lounge called “Thor Equities Corridors of Blight.” Alas, not much has changed on Stillwell since Bob wrote those words in May 2007.
Related posts on ATZ…
March 5, 2012: Exclusive: Goodbye Flea Market, Hello “Steeplechase Park”