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Shoot out the Star--Players Wanted! Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shoot out the Star--Players Wanted! October 30, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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.

Coney ISland's Shoot out the Star, July 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island's Shoot out the Star, July 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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.”

New Year's Day 2009: No Trespassing Signs on Shoot Out the Star. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

New Year's Day 2009: No Trespassing Signs on Shoot Out the Star. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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.

Lettering on Thor Equities banner Dwarfs Shoot out the Star.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Lettering on Thor Equities banner Dwarfs Shoot out the Star. January 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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?

100 Shots $2.00. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

100 Shots $2.00. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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

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Former site of go-karts, batting cages and other thriving amusements bulldozed or evicted by property owner Thor Equities in 2007. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Former site of go-karts, batting cages and other thriving amusements bulldozed or evicted by property owner Thor Equities in 2007. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


We do very little to preserve the character and charm of our neighborhoods. Our city is made up of neighborhoods. Certainly Coney Island is unique not only to the city and the country but to the world. Everybody knows what Coney Island represents. The Mayor’s proposal will destroy that. You will never get that back.

City Councilman and Mayoral candidate Tony Avella speaking about “The Future of Coney Island” on today’s Brian Lehrer Show

A day before Wednesday’s full City Council vote on the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning plan for Coney Island, Councilman Avella said “The whole basis of this plan seems to be like a house of cards.”

As chairman of the Council’s Zoning and Franchises subcommittee, Avella introduced an amendment to the plan that would have enlarged the area for outdoor amusements and limited the height of hotels to 25 feet on the south side of Surf Avenue. Avella and Charles Barron, a member of the Zoning Subcommittee, were the only two council members to vote for the amendment.

Speaking by cell phone with Lehrer since campaigning is not allowed on City Hall phones, Avella said, “Part of the argument against the hotels south of Surf Avenue is when people drive by Surf Avenue or come by the subway you want to be able to see the amusements. That’s part of the attraction. So now people driving by or coming by subway are just going to see the hotels.”

Avella also pointed out that there would be little to draw people all the way out to Coney Island to stay in the hotels if the amusement area is reduced in size.

“Nine acres is nothing,” Avella says in a statement posted on his campaign website. “People aren’t going to come out to Coney Island unless there’s a full day of amusement there. This plan by the Bloomberg Administration will destroy the character of another New York City neighborhood. They seem determined to erase the history of New York City, just like they did in Harlem on 125th Street.”

After the Lehrer show we happened to read on City Room that more than three-quarters of voters surveyed in a new Quinnipiac poll do not know enough about Avella. We would tell them Avella is a strong advocate for historic preservation who authored the Demolition by Neglect bill in 2005. He is also an outspoken critic of overdevelopment.

We got our first look at Councilman Avella in action at the July 1 City Council subcommittee hearing on the Coney Rezoning which he chaired. We were impressed by his line of questioning and his attentiveness as a listener. The hearing was a gruelling eight hours, though the majority of the council members, the press and most of the audience left after the property owners had testified. Avella was one of the few council members who stayed till the end to hear everyone’s testimony.

Like many others at the hearing, ATZ spoke in favor of revitalizing Coney Island yet stated that the City’s plan needed modifications. As Avella said on the Lehrer show: “The overwhelming sentiment from the people who live in Coney Island was the plan could be better. We don’t have to settle just because the Mayor wants to get something through and say ‘hey, look I’m improving Coney Island for his re-election.’ We can do it better. ”

You can listen to the entire “Future of Coney Island” segment on the Lehrer Show here.

Councilman Tony Avellas Mayoral Announcement on the Steps of City Hall, March 2008.  Photo by tonyavella2009 via flickr

Councilman Tony Avella's Mayoral Announcement on the Steps of City Hall, March 2008. Photo by tonyavella2009 via flickr

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World Famous Bob Speaking at Save Coney Island Rally, Brooklyn Borough Hall. Photo © jane_jacobs_saves_coney via flickr
World Famous Bob Speaking at Save Coney Island Rally, Brooklyn Borough Hall. Photo © jane_jacobs_saves_coney via flickr

I’ve never had anything against tall skinny buildings. I’ve always thought Manhattan was beautiful. But in Brooklyn I just thought they’d like to keep it short and wide and that’s why I live here.

–Burlesque artist World Famous BOB, emceeing Sunday’s Last Chance to Save Island Rally.

The Burlesque at the Beach bombshell held up “Before” and “After” renderings to show the folly of the City’s rezoning plan. The plan would allow high-rises of up to 27 stories along the south side of Surf Avenue, walling off and casting shadows across the world famous seaside amusement district.

BOB urged New Yorkers to call their City Council members before the full Council votes on the plan this Wednesday. “I am a huge fan not only of Brooklyn, but specifically of Coney Island,” said the New York Burlesque Festival’s “Most Inspiring” performer. “There’s no better way I would personally like to spend a Sunday afternoon than with a bunch of people who not only love Coney Island but love it enough to actually came down here and request that it get saved.” If you missed the rally, here’s how you can request that it get saved.

ATZ will dutifully phone our Council member a third time. But we would feel more confident about the outcome of Wednesday’s Council meeting if the World Famous BOB were City Council Speaker instead of Bloomberg’s henchwoman Christine Quinn! Last week Coney Island’s Councilman Domenic Recchia said in a statement posted on his blog, “I know that there are those who would like to see lower buildings on the south side of Surf Avenue. We just couldn’t make this work and will be moving forward with project that you see today.”

On the plus side, the Councilman’s post mentioned discussions with the administration about expanding the area for outdoor amusements. “I hope that by the time the entire City Council votes on this plan, on July 29th, I will have great news for everyone.” We’re sitting on the edge of our seats till then, when presumably we’ll find out what kind of deal the City is currently cutting with real estate speculator Thor Equities behind closed doors.

Speakers at the Last Chance to Save Coney rally also included Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island, Mermaid Parade founder and Coney Island’s permanently unelected “Mayor” Dick Zigun, “Coney Island: Lost & Found” author and historian Charles Denson, Cyclone roller coaster operator and former Astroland owner Carol Hill Albert, Miss Cyclone Angie Pontani, Lola Staar Souvenir Boutique owner Dianna Carlin, activist and author Kevin Powell, Green Party mayoral candidate Rev. Billy Talen and musician Amos Wengler singing his anthem “Save Coney Island.”

Last Chance to Save Coney Island Rally, Brooklyn Borough Hall. Photo © jane_jacobs_saves_coney via flickr

Mayoral candidate Rev Billy Talen Speaking at Last Chance to Save Coney Island Rally, Brooklyn Borough Hall. Photo © Robert & Robbie Bailey via jane_jacobs_saves_coney flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 18, 2009: Ciao Coney Island! Will Ruby’s, Shoot the Freak, Astrotower & Other Oldies Survive?

October 9, 2009: A Rare Peek Inside Endangered Old Bank of Coney Island

July 9, 2009: Video: A Friendly but Urgent PSA from Coney Island’s ‘Mayor’

June 11, 2009: Coney Island Amusement Advocates Rally for More Acreage for Outdoor Rides

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