Coney Island boutique likely to close following massive rent hike

Photo by Rose Adams

A Coney Island business owner may shutter her boutique in response to a dramatic rent hike at the hands of amusement park’s international landlord, the store owner announced on Wednesday. 

“New Year’s Day is my favorite day in Coney Island. But today I didn’t go. My heart is too broken,” wrote Dianna Carlin, the owner of Lola Star Souvenir Boutique, in a Jan. 1 Facebook post. “It might also be the final day of the shop I’ve owned for the past 19 years. I am supposed to be moved out of the store in less than 15 days.”

Carlin went on to add that she has until Jan. 15 to reach a deal with Zamperla — although she claims that a deal is unlikely. 

“I proposed a 50-percent rent increase . . . and they’re still wanting 400-percent,” she said on Thursday. ” It’s getting close… but not definite.”

Six Riegelmann Boardwalk businesses — including 85-year-old Ruby’s Bar and Grill and 57-year-old Paul’s Daughter — had from early Nov. to Dec. 31 to negotiate the proposed rent hikes. 

Carlin, who goes by Lola Star, said she initially faced a nearly 500-percent rent increase when the amusement park’s operator announced the hikes in November, two months before the tenants’ eight-year leases were set to expire. On Dec. 5, Carlin claimed that the rent increase had been knocked down to nearly 400-percent — still above her ability to pay.

“I would have to close,” she said at a Dec. 5 rally protesting the proposed increases. “I have no choice. I don’t know any business that could pay that much.” Carlin did not answer how much she paid in rent.

All the other tenants are in the process of finalizing their eight-year leases, sources said. One affected business owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his rent increase was reasonable.

“I believe the deal was fair,” said the owner, who previously claimed he was facing a 25 to 75-percent rent hike, not the five-fold increase Carlin reported. “I would’ve liked to pay less, but I believe it was a fair deal.” 

Lola Star’s impending closure isn’t the first time the amusement district’s operator forced out local businesses. In 2010, Zamperla, the Italian corporation that operates six acres of the People’s Playground on behalf of the city, tried to kick out all eight boardwalk businesses, including Ruby’s and Paul’s, but ended up ousting only five after facing public pressure.  

Local advocates have blasted Zamperla, which has operated Coney Island amusement district since 2010, for its allegedly unethical business practices, claiming that the corporation asks tenants to sign non-disclosure agreements and fork over 10-percent of their profits every month.

“It’s one thing for private landlords to have non-disclosure agreements, but it’s another thing when the city and the City Council issues non-disclosure agreements,” said civil rights lawyer. Norman Siegal at the Dec. 5 rally. “What do you have to hide?”

However, an anonymous business owner claimed on Jan. 2 that he never signed a non-disclosure agreement, after he declined to comment on the matter in November.

“There was never any non-disclosure agreement with anybody,” he said. 

Representatives from Zamperla, the Mayor’s Office, and the Economic Development Corporation — a quasi-government agency that helped negotiate the lease renewals — did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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