Nine longtime Boardwalk businesses — including the Shoot the Freak booth and a bar dating back to the Great Depression — got the boot on Monday, part of the city’s controversial effort to transform Coney Island into a glitzy year-round destination.
Owners of the businesses between W. 10th Street and Stillwell Avenue learned yesterday morning that their leases won’t be renewed for next spring by Central Amusement International, the Italy-based outfit that ran the Luna Park concession on city-owned land this summer and has plans for a major theme park expansion next year.
“They threw us out like dogs,” said Anthony Berlingieri, owner of the 10-year-old Shoot The Freak booth, who has sounded the alarm about the impending doom of the old-school Boardwalk business for a year. “They kicked out the people that kept Coney Island on the map for all these years.”
Central Amusement’s decision may not sit well with some city officials. Three years ago, the chairwoman of the City Planning Commission, Amanda Burden, horrified Mayor Bloomberg when she said she that she hoped that Shoot the Freak booth would remain — even has her boss expressed contempt for the junk yard where patrons shoot paintballs at human targets dressed in costume.
“I would vote for Shoot the Freak,” Burden chimed in while the mayor was speaking at the podium. “I love Shoot the Freak.”
A video of Burden’s defense of the carny booth, filmed by late blogger Robert Guskind, bounced all over the Internet on Tuesday.
In addition to axing Shoot the Freak, Central Amusement declined to renew leases for Coney Island Souvenirs, Gyro Corner and Ruby’s Old Tyme Bar and Grill, a dive that opened in 1934.
Meanwhile, Nathan’s, a fast-food-serving national chain, will retain its Boardwalk satellite location two blocks from the restaurant’s flagship eatery.
Only one non-chain store — the Lola Star Boutique — was told that its lease would be renewed.
It is unclear why some shops were shuttered and others allowed to remain, but amusement area stalwarts condemned the move.
“It’s really sad because these businesses have been part of the fabric of Coney Island for a long time,” said Carol Albert, who owned the Astroland amusement park before selling to developer Joe Sitt in 2006. That sale set into motion a city takeover of Coney’s redevelopment, the subsequent least to Central Amusement and the decision to end the leases this week.
For a while, it wasn’t clear what would happen. Earlier this summer, Central Amusements had required the Boardwalk shop owners to prepare a “business plan” so that the company could determine if the shops could stay. But Berlingieri and others said that the company didn’t bother to read the proposals.
“I wrote in my business plan that I was willing to work with Central Amusement 150 percent to make any accommodations and changes that they wanted,” Berlingieri said. “But I don’t think they had any intention of keeping us.”
Steve Bitetzakis, owner of the Grill House, was also shocked that Central Amusement did not approve his business plan — which called for a lucrative second-floor lounge.
“I’ve had my business for 17 years, so I can’t believe we have to leave,” Bitetzakis said.
Central Amusement spokesman Tom Corsillo declined to comment about the leases, saying only that the closed beachfront businesses didn’t jibe with the company’s plans for the “new” Coney Island, a vision that includes year-round stores, a fancy, sit-down restaurant and a section of new thrill rides called Scream Zone.
“We’re just looking at tenants that can provide a good experience for all of Coney Island,” said Corsillo.
Not every business plan focused on pluses and minuses on a ledger. Dianna Carlin, owner of the 10-year-old Lola Star, said that her business plan was mostly cosmetic.
“I want to install a three-dimensional Lola Star figure roller-skating on top of a disco ball over the entrance and three hot pink chandeliers, including one made of Gummi bears!” she said.
Carlin has become something of a bridge between the old carny charm of Coney Island and the city’s vision for an all-year theme park with shops, restaurants and other retail.
Like Carlin, Berligieri also sees himself providing a valuable service to the “new” Coney Island. But he’s also been a blunt ambassador for the lingering businesses on the Boardwalk, some of which, like Ruby’s, have survived decades of decline in Coney Island.
Berligieri always suspected that the future would not be bright for everyone. Last November, when Mayor Bloomberg trumpeted his $100-million purchase of land from developer Joe Sitt, there was Berligieri asking whether there were any guarantees that longtime businesses would be allowed to remain.
No guarantee was given.
Months later, Central Amusement won the 10-year lease to run the theme park on the city-owned land, setting in motion Monday’s demise of the old guard.