Coney merchants: The Shore Theater has become a homeless hangout

Merchants say that the homeless are camping out under the scaffolding surrounding the Shore Theater.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

A group of homeless men who harass Coney Island beach-goers and urinate in public has turned a landmarked building across the street from Nathans into their private camp ground, claim outraged merchants who want the vagrants gone.

Shopkeepers claim that more than 10 homeless men hang out and sleep under the scaffolding lining the Shore Theater — which was built in 1925 and named a city landmark in 2010 — at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues. When they’re not under the scaffolding, they’re shaking people down for change and cigarettes, said Dee Dee Mancuso, the manager of Cha Cha’s Surf Bar and Pizzeria.

“They come right up to the front tables and they’re asking for cigarettes, they’re staring at people eating, and dancing in front of the building,” Mancuso said. “If you were going out to eat, would you want to walk past all this?”

Karen King-Ciarcia, who helps run the eatery with her husband John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia, said that the homeless have always flocked to Coney Island, but never in such numbers.

“Some of them used to be on the boardwalk, I recognize them,” King-Ciarcia said. “But the others I don’t know where they came from.”

King-Ciarcia claims the homeless group urinate in front of her establishment at night, forcing her and her staff to clean up their mess every morning.

“We have to hose everything down and bleach it to get rid of the odor,” she said.

A man found camped at the corner last week, who would only identify himself as John, admitted that he and several others stay under the scaffolding at night.

John claimed that he’s been staying at the corner for the past seven years. The others come from Boston, Pennsylvania, and the Lower East Side — but all of them came to the iconic seaside escape for the same reason millions of others do, he explained.

“It’s Coney Island,” John said.

Cha Cha’s Surf Bar and Pizzeria opened in April after Ciarcia, lost his famed Boardwalk bar last year. The honky-tonk watering hole was one of five eateries booted from the Boardwalk as the city took steps to remake the Coney Island Amusement District into a glitzy, year-round tourist destination.

But Mancuso claims that Coney Island’s rebirth — as well as Cha Cha’s return to Coney Island — won’t succeed if the current homeless problem is allowed to continue.

“If somebody doesn’t do something, we’re going to go under,” Mancuso said.

Cops dismissed claims that the homeless were camping out in front of the Shore Theater, but admitted that they’re are keeping an eye on the corner.

“We drive by there and if there’s anybody there, we clear them out,” a police source said.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at wbredderman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

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