And so it begins…
The invasion long dreaded by denizens of the People’s Playground has finally come to pass, as costumed characters driven out of Times Square by a police crackdown have descended onto the Coney Island Boardwalk.
People dressed as children’s favorite characters — from SpongeBob to Iron Man to Olaf from “Frozen” — have begun to congregate along the waterfront to pose for pictures with kids — and then demand cash from the parents.
Locals are not at all happy to see the photo-op phenomenon metastasize from the crossroads of the world to Sodom on the Sea.
“I think they should stay away from here,” said Fernando Delvalle, a weekly visitor to the Boardwalk. “Leave that in Times Square.”
Another Coney Island regular said the invasion would destroy the distinct local scene.
“I don’t like Times Square,” said Joe Hunt. “Coney Island is the farthest thing from Time Square.”
Some local restaurateurs and shop owners agree that the sudden appearance this season of the costumed cohort bodes ill for the Boardwalk.
“I think overall it’s bad for business,” said Michael Sarrel, a manager at famed Coney Island eatery Ruby’s.
Sarrel said he has already seen some of the tactics that prompted the police to run them out of Manhattan for harassing tourists who refused to hand over “tips” after snapping a pic.
“People are intimidated having them here, begging for tips,” Sarrel said. “Sometimes they get aggressive.”
It is illegal to demand money for taking a picture of someone in a public place, and after signs to that effect were posted prominently around Time Square, some costumed characters have sought greener pastures — and less-savvy tourists.
“They’re preying on people’s ignorance,” said Hunt.
Louis John, Tom’s Coney Island’s manager, doesn’t think these new panhandlers will affect his business, but said he understands the complaints.
“There’s so many people [in Coney Island] that I don’t think it matters,” he said. “But, they make people feel a little uncomfortable, they make you feel like you have to [tip.]”
Some visitors weren’t worried about aggressive panhandling as much as they were annoyed at the low-quality, knockoff costumes.
“I don’t come to the Boardwalk to hang out with inaccurate versions of characters,” said Alex Thiel as she relaxed on the Boardwalk. “I don’t think Coney Island, being what it is, needs it,” she said.
Her friend Lauren Mark agreed, saying that the People’s Playground already has enough of its own distinctive attractions.
“I think [Coney Island] should just keep it to the classic freak show,” she said. “Those were the people you came here to see if you are coming to see characters.”
The Alliance for Coney Island said it is still looking into the matter and talking to the appropriate agencies, but added that it will strive to keep Coney Island a pleasurable spot for people to visit.
“The Alliance will continue to dedicate efforts to ensure that the district’s quality programming is preserved for the enjoyment of its visitors and residents,” said Johanna Zaki, executive director of the Alliance.