Ride on! Crowds cram Coney commencement

Ride on! Crowds cram Coney commencement
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The People’s Playground is back!

Coney Island came to life April 13 with the opening of its two biggest funzones — Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and Luna Park — and the inauguration of eateries old and new.

In a new twist for opening day festivities, Sodom by the Sea’s self-declared mayor Dick Zigun toured his domain with an oversized key, unlocking the attractions. Zigun said the crowd was unprecedented — which he attributed to a warm weekend after a bitter winter.

“It was the strongest Palm Sunday I’ve ever seen,” said Coney’s hizzoner. “Everyone’s been so cooped up, the weather was so nice, there was really incredible turnout.”

Among the crowds that thronged Deno’s were some 350 neighborhood youth — mainly from the housing developments on the peninsula’s west end — who got to ride the Wonder Wheel and other attractions for free, part of a 26-year-old tradition. The park’s owners described the scene as impressive and heart-warming .

“We had a real nice turnout, probably the biggest turnout in years. The kids had a great time, as usual,” said co-owner Dennis Vourderis.

Over at Luna Park, Borough President Adams presided over the annual egg cream christening of Coney’s mighty Cyclone coaster.

The excitement surrounding the event reflected the anticipation of a wildly successful summer.

“This year is poised to be Coney Island’s best season in modern history,” said Johanna Zaki, director of operations for the Alliance for Coney Island business group.

Blocks away, another Coney classic returned. Pete’s Clam Stop at the corner of W. 15th Street and Surf Avenue, shuttered since superstorm Sandy in 2012, made its long-awaited reappearance. The owners — who had to replace the floors, ceilings, and equipment — were also in awe of the crowds, which now include international tourists.

“Before, years ago when I was a kid, it was just people from the New York area. Now you’ve got a variety of people from all over,” said owner Pete Agripides.

Across the street, chilly treats stop Rita’s Italian Ices opened its doors, its freezer, and its heart — giving out free ices to all comers. The store, which moved this year to the amusement area from Marine Park, described it as a way to build a warm relationship with its new neighbors.

“This is great for the local kids. Rita’s wants to service the neighborhood as well as the amusement area,” said Rita’s agent Joe Vitacco.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.