Following the fortunes of Shoot out the Star on Stillwell Ave is one of my Coney Island obsessions. On Friday afternoon, the day before Halloween, I wasn’t surprised to see the metal gate rolled up and the shooting gallery open for business. CB, who runs the game for Slim, has been known to stay open long after Coney’s rides and most other games close around Columbus Day. On Friday he wasn’t looking any farther ahead than the next couple of days. We spent a good half hour cutting up jackpots about Coney Island present and future. Every time someone walked by, we’d stop talking and CB would call them in to play. “Shoot out the Star! $2.00 for 100 shots!”
Located in the Henderson Building on Stillwell across the street from Nathan’s, Shoot out the Star has a prime location. In the summer, people pour out of the subway terminal on the way to the beach and Boardwalk and many stop to play. At this time of year the stream of people has slowed to a trickle of tourists with cameras and Nathan’s coffee cups in hand. When nobody but nobody would stop to Shoot out the Star, ATZ chimed in: “This is the last game open in all of Coney Island! This is your very last chance to play!” We should add—last chance till Palm Sunday 2010, when Coney Island’s rides and attractions, including the Cyclone and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, reopen and the crowds return.
Shoot out the Star’s iconic signage is the work of Dreamland Artists Club founder Steve Powers, who also did the Cyclone seats and the Bump Your Ass Off signs on the Eldorado Bumper Cars and the delightfully quirky stairway at the Coney Island Museum. Last December, Thor Equities put up a huge “Space for Lease” banner on the Henderson Building that dwarfed Shoot out the Star. The banners went up on Thor’s properties throughout Coney Island days before Christmas, prompting the NY Post to call Sitt “the Grinch Who Stole Coney Island.” News quickly spread that Thor CEO Joe Sitt was asking triple the rent for the 2009 season. Thor’s henchmen accompanied the uniformed security guards who cut off the locks and put up no trespassing signs. They told the shooting gallery operator and the souvenir stand guy next door, who were still open, that they were “trespassing” and threw them out. Commenters on the Coney Island USA message board referred to it as “Eviction, Sitt Style.”
Shoot out the Star managed to reopen this summer, but its future is precarious. The Thor Equities-owned Henderson Building occupies a lot that has been rezoned for a high rise hotel. The “Space for Lease” banner still looms over Stillwell, a symbol of Thor’s power over Coney Island. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work a game a few blocks east on Jones Walk, which I like to call the midway of midways. Unlike the ever-changing traveling midways of my carny childhood, “the Walk” is a permanent part of the landscape, street sign and all. As someone who learned to call the people in working my parents’ games and later went on the road on my own, I have a deep attachment to the business. I worry about the future of independently operated games in the newly rezoned Coney Island.
When talk turns to acreage for rides and amusements, I doubt anyone gives a thought to the water race games and the shooting galleries except the owners and operators of those games. Will midway games get squeezed out by retail, restaurants and hotels, with an token arcade thrown in to say hey, we got hundreds of games?
The City recently closed on the property on the east side of Jones Walk in a deal that was first announced in October 2008. The Economic Development Corporation’s original press release says, “Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the Ward family, the oldest, continuous landowner in Coney Island, has agreed to have NYCEDC acquire roughly one acre of land for $11 million.” Now the City is the new landlord of the game booths on the east side of the midway of midways. Will the operators, many of whom have been part of Coney Island for decades, be grandfathered in? Or will the have to jump through the hoops of the City’s bureaucracy to remain in the new Coney Island?
Shoot out the Star, Stillwell at the Bowery, Coney Island
If you come to Coney Island for a Nathan’s hot dog, a stroll along the Boardwalk or to see the Parachute Jump–Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, please support independent amusements by playing the only game you’re likely to find open this time of year: Shoot out the Star