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Wampum

Coming to Coney: Wampum Pineapple Brim Anchor Snapback. Photo via wampumny.com

Wampum, a lifestyle clothing brand and skate shop with locations in Bridgehampton and Nolita, is set to open a Coney Island pop-up on May 24. The location is 1232 Surf Avenue in Thor Equities new building. The space is on Stillwell Avenue across the street from Nathan’s. “We just finalized the deal,” Wampum’s Lennon Ficalora told ATZ.

Lennon, 26, and his brother Marley, 24, opened their first shop two years ago and were looking to expand to another seaside location. Coney Island was familiar from trips to the Siren Festival. “We got a good deal,” says Lennon of the 2,500 square foot raw space, which they have leased from Thor through Labor Day. “We’re doing a minimal build-out.” Their neighbor in the still vacant new building will be candy retailer It’Sugar, a Miami-based chain also expected to open on Memorial Day Weekend.

The Ficalora brothers grew up skateboarding in Montauk, where their family runs the Breakers Motel. According to Wampum’s website, Lennon and Marley’s two shops are located next to their mother Helen Ficalora’s jewelry stores and her success as a jewelry designer was influential in their decision to open the Wampum stores. “The Wampum brand embodies the whole lifestyle that comes with skateboarding,” said Lennon, who was the first local kid ever invited to compete in the Van’s Warp Tour National Skateboarding Competition.

Wampum Nolita was named the best skate shop by New York Magazine in 2012. However, the Coney Island pop-up will feature 90 per cent clothing. “We hand print all the shirts and work with local artists. All the clothing is made in America,” said Lennon. The online shop stocks T-shirts, tanks, shorts, hats and beanies. Some of the items are made from 100% organic cotton. T-shirts sell for $30-$40, which is twice the price we’re used to seeing in Coney Island. Asked if the new shop will feature Coney-themed apparel, Lennon said, “I think so. We’re still finalizing it. There will definitely be some exclusives.”

Surf Avenue is set to get an influx of national chains and franchises–Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets, Red Mango, Checkers, It’Sugar. The upscale Wampum is the first small business to lease space in Thor Equities new building at Surf and Stillwell. Why aren’t there more? Back in December, a press release from Thor Equities offered potential good news for retailers and restaurateurs who wanted to get a foot in the door of the new Coney Island: “Thor To Add Local Flavor To Coney Island By Leasing Major Surf Avenue Parcels To Local Brooklyn Merchants At Reduced Rents For 2013.” Thor was said to be teaming up with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to help recruit tenants. The idea was to fully lease Joe Sitt’s new building at Surf and Stillwell for the summer of 2013.

May we suggest a contest to attract a Brooklyn start-up with the winner receiving a highly publicized rent-free season in one of Joe Sitt’s remaining storefronts? Amusements in “Use Group A” such as arcades, games of chance or skill, fortune tellers, freak shows, wax museums and other midway attractions should also be given a percentage of space in the building as required by the City’s zoning in Coney Island. The Fascination Arcade, Shoot Out the Star and “Baloon Raceing” were among the old school amusements in the Henderson Building until it was demolished by Thor and replaced by the new building.

Update: This Wampum location is closed.

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Coming to Coney

Coming to Coney: Candy and Gift Retailer It’Sugar. This store is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

In 2011, Thor Equities put up new signage atop the blue construction fence at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, the gateway to Coney’s beach and Boardwalk amusement parks: “CONEY ISLAND – The RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME.” After eight years of real estate speculation and the rezoning of Coney, Thor CEO Joe Sitt’s retail ride finally begins this season. ATZ has learned exclusively from sources that candy retailer It’Sugar will be the first tenant at Thor’s new building at Surf and Stillwell. The plywood has come down from the boarded-up new building, which was completed last January, and interior construction of the corner store is underway for a May 3rd opening of It’Sugar Coney Island.

Coney Island building

Exiting Stillwell Terminal in the new Coney Island, the first sight one sees is Thor Equities generic looking new building. January 29, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Florida-based company was founded in 2006 and is “one of the largest and fastest growing specialty candy and gift retailers in the world with over 70 retail locations,” according to one of their press releases. ATZ went to the It’Sugar store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to check it out.

The place is pink ‘n’ yellow with a sparkly garnet floor and the music is blaring. It’s impossible not to smile at the sight of a supersized, one pound pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups and a one pound Hershey’s chocolate bar paired for Valentine’s Day until you look at the price tag — $40. There’s also a kiosk of old school candy like Necco Wafers and Goo Goo Clusters, jewelry that looks like sweets, T-shirts and novelty items.

Among the candy retailer’s other locations are the Atlantic City Boardwalk, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Universal Citywalk in California and malls from Alabama to the United Arab Emirates. There are also 22 “shops in shops” in Macy’s including Herald Square and such New York City tourist destinations as Madame Tussaud’s and Radio City Music Hall.

candy-inspired jewelry

Candy-inspired jewelry display at It’Sugar. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The upscale candy store will be the first sight visitors see when they exit Stillwell Terminal and will open in a Coney Island that is rapidly changing. Three national franchises– Applebee’s, Johnny Rockets and Red Mango–have signed leases for the north side of Surf Avenue, on property not owned by Thor. If you’re a regular reader of ATZ, you’ll know we’re not a fan of the plan to “revitalize” Coney Island by bringing in formula businesses and franchises. As we’ve written previously: Coney Island, the birthplace of the hot dog, the roller coaster, and the enclosed amusement park is famous for its quirky authenticity, but it’s about to look and taste more like Anyplace USA.

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Flea Market on Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island. June 25, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We caught a surreal glimpse of the future of Thor’s Coney Island at the flea market entrance on Stillwell Avenue. A faux street sign touting “WATCHES” seemingly towers over the Parachute Jump. Across Stillwell, Thor Equities advertises Coney as “The Retail Ride of a Lifetime.”

The City’s 2009 rezoning allows for the expansion of retail as well as towers up to 27 stories, as high as the 270 foot Parachute Jump, in the Coney Island sky.

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New Signage

Thor Equities New Signage at Corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. April 30, 2011. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via Amusing the Zillion

On Friday, Thor Equities put up new signage atop the blue construction fence at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, the gateway to Coney Island’s beach and Boardwalk: “CONEY ISLAND – The RETAIL RIDE of a LIFETIME – for leasing contact…”

Ain’t it just like Joe Sitt to tout retail when Coney Island, the birthplace of the amusement industry, is expecting its best season yet because of the success of Luna Park on land purchased by the City from Thor? The new slogan is a slap in the face to Zamperla’s Scream Zone, which has four real rides of a lifetime just down the block, including the eye-popping Sling Shot and Coney Island’s first new major roller coasters in nearly 40 years.

New rides –and not retail–on Stillwell are cause for celebration because this is where the now legendary Tornado (1927-1977) and Bobsled (1941-1974) Roller Coasters once thrilled and where Norman Kaufman’s Batting Range and Go Kart City amused the zillion until Joe Sitt bought the property in 2006 and emptied out the amusements.

Thor Equities New Signs Atop Street Artists Mural at Corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island. April 30, 2011. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via Amusing the Zillion

Surf and Stillwell is also the gateway to Joe Sitt’s successor to 2009’s failed Flea by the Sea. This year’s BK Festival, originally billed as “NYC Largest Flea Market with a Festival Style [sic]” has dropped the phrase flea market from its marketing material. Set to open this month next weekend, the festival is now being advertised as “like a state fair for the whole family with attractions to include inflatable world, concerts, shopping experience, pony rides and petting zoos, and much much more.” And with good reason, a flea market is illegal in Coney’s amusement zone, though in the past the City has failed to enforce its own zoning.

In response to ATZ’s query about the zoning, Purnima Kapur, Brooklyn City Planning Director, wrote in an email: “The C7 zoning district in Coney Island does not permit Flea Markets as a permitted use; however small scale retail and restaurants are permitted in addition to amusements.”

According to the zoning documents, retail uses are complementary to amusement uses and beach activities, and these uses are limited in size and frontage.

plan

Coney Island Illustrative Development Plan, Department of City Planning

We’re not convinced small scale retail is the Coney Island ride of a lifetime that Joe Sitt has in mind. At his Flea by the Sea in 2009, stands selling clothing and shoes were a reminder that Thor’s pitch book unsuccessfully used to lobby BP 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”).

We believed then as we believe now that the flea market or “shopping experience” is part of a strategy to win a variance for 10,000 square foot retail from the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals in a future administration. In Coney Island, Joe Sitt is just as infamous for “sitting” on property as he is for flipping it.

Thor’s empty lot at Surf and Stillwell is the site of the former Henderson Music Hall, one of three historic buildings which Thor CEO Joe Sitt ordered to be demolished last year. The Henderson site was rezoned for a high-rise hotel in July 2009.

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February 13, 2012: Thor’s Coney Island: Candy Retailer It’Sugar to Open Surf Ave Store

April 5, 2011: Thor’s Coney Island: Joe Sitt Scores Puff Piece in NY Times

March 3, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: What Stillwell Looked Like Before Joe Sitt

February 10, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Amusement Operators Balk, Money Talks at Stillwell

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