The Lola Staar boutique on the Coney Island Boardwalk — part souvenir stand, part rallying place for critics of a real-estate developer’s plan for a Vegas-style Xanadu — has not been offered a new lease, a casualty of its owner’s outspokenness.
A spokesman for Thor Equities, which wants to turn its 11 acres of Coney Island land into a 24-7-365 amusement, shopping, entertainment and hotel zone, confirmed that Lola Staar owner Dianna Carlin would not be getting a new lease, though he did not specify why.
Carlin’s criticism, she said, was clearly the reason.
“They have malicious plans for Coney Island and I’m a person who stood up to their plans — and that’s a threat to them,” she said.
The move by Thor Equities to shutter the boutique comes as other entrepreneurs along the honky-tonk strip between West 10th West 15th street say they are facing rent hikes that will almost certainly result in other stores shutting down.
Merchants said that Thor representatives told them to expect their rents to double or triple.
As a result, the legendary dive bar Ruby’s may also not reopen — not even for the New Year’s Day festivities for the annual Polar Bear Club and Icebreakers Club swim in the frigid Atlantic. [UPDATE: The bar now says it will be open on New Year’s Day.]
“We’re waiting to see the lease,” said Michael Sarrel, whose wife is daughter of the original Ruby — Rubin Jacobs — and co-owns the bar with her sister. Ruby’s has existed under various names and owners since 1934.
Cha Cha’s bar and even a Boardwalk outpost of Nathan’s now have Thor Equities’ “Stores for Lease” signs.
“It’s absurd,” said Carlin. “Why is Thor Equities putting people out of business needlessly?”
The timing of the closures couldn’t be more troubling for Coney Island, coming after the shut-down of Astroland, the amusement park that sits on Thor Equities-owned land. This fall, Thor Equities announced that it would not extend the space-age theme park’s lease, leaving Coney Island with only one amusement park, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.
“It was already going to be a tough season without Astroland and now this,” Carlin fumed to The Brooklyn Paper. She said she plans to open another branch in the Stillwell Avenue subway station at the corner of Surf Avenue.
Thor startled many of its tenants that their time might be up by hanging for rent signs — on Christmas Eve no less — above all of the storefronts it owns in Coney Island.
If Sitt levies a steep increase on Ruby’s, Sarrel said it would be tough for the bar to sell enough drinks to turn a profit because it’s a seasonal business — a refrain often heard on Coney Island.
“You have about 12 weeks [June through August] to make money and bad weather can have a big effect,” Sarrel said.
The terms of the new year-to-year leases could be financially ruinous for current tenants, but Thor predicts that its 11 acres of property throughout the amusement zone will be bustling this summer and that many of the longtime shopkeepers and entertainment operators will be back.
“Thor has had positive negotiations with a majority of our tenants in Coney Island. We are confident that every single square foot of property that Thor owns in Coney will be open and active next summer,” said Sitt’s spokesman, Stefan Friedman.
But the company made similar promises to bring rides and attractions to a smaller number of vacant lots this past summer — calling it the “Summer of Hope” — only to see the traveling carnies pack up early.
The city is in negotiations to purchase Thor’s 11 acres in order to break a deadlock over who — Thor or Mayor Bloomberg — would redevelop the downtrodden People’s Playground into a year-round tourist destination with new rides, amusements and hotels.
A quick deal with Thor owner Joe Sitt could potentially salvage the coming peak season on Coney Island and grant the imperiled storekeepers and carnival game operators a reprieve from the expected raises in rents if the city obtains the deeds to their land.
But in the meantime, the city said Thor’s brinkmanship proved only the Bloomberg Administration is committed to preserving and improving Coney Island.
“The latest shuttering of businesses on the Boardwalk is yet another sign that it’s necessary for the city’s plan to revitalize Coney Island to succeed so that we can bring certainty to the area and give Coney Island a chance to grow and thrive,” said Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation.
UPDATE: This story was revised on Dec. 31 at 12:45 pm to reflect new information about Ruby’s bar.
©2008 Community News Group
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