Nearly 11 million people flocked to Coney Island Beach last year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to city figures. Many attended well-known attractions, like the Nathan’s Famous July 4 International Hot Dog-Eating Contest. And most of Coney Island’s boardwalk bars, shops and restaurants are now open to sell cold beers, tchotchkes and fried clams to tourists and New York’s most quirky characters alike.
But the strongmen and sword swallowers who perform at the Coney Island Circus Sideshow will be out of work until May 24, when owner Dick Zigun is able to open the first floor of the landmark building that houses it as well as a bar, gift shop and dressing room destroyed by Sandy.
After tallying $400,000 in damage from Sandy, Zigun’s nonprofit Coney Island USA is hard-pressed to pay for this summer’s Mermaid Parade, an annual gathering of more than 1,500 people marching in wacky – and often revealing – costumes to celebrate the kooky seaside culture of Coney Island.
“We’re moving forward, even though it’s questionable,” Zigun said, adding that weather will be the deciding factor. “We are savvy Coney Island carneys; once we reopen, we are damn good at making money.”
Luna Park amusement park says its nearly 30 rides are all open, including the wooden Cyclone Rollercoaster. Last year, 759,000 people visited Luna Park, 120,000 more than in 2011, according to the city.
But despite this recovery, many in the neighborhood surrounding the boardwalk are still looking for rebirth.
The Coney Island library is closed, and the post office is only partially open. More than two dozen unsalvageable buildings in or around Coney Island still need to be demolished, said Chuck Reichenthal, the district manager of the area’s community board. With an unclear timeline for demolition, he said, air quality during the beach season could be an issue.
Still, he said, the fact that so much of the amusement park has opened already is an encouraging sign that Coney Island businesses will rebound and cover their losses.
“I am trying to be even more than cautiously optimistic and just be outwardly optimistic,” he said. “The beach is ready; we don’t find any more drifting materials from the Rockaways or other places. The ocean appears clean. Hey, let’s have fun.”