Welcome to Coney! Walking tour highlights immigrant businesses

Welcome to Coney! Walking tour highlights immigrant businesses
Coney Island History Project

Immigrants — we get the jobs done!

A pair of walking tours through Coney Island this Saturday will introduce visitors to famous businesses in the People’s Playground that were begun by immigrants to the United States. Coney Island has maintained a strong immigrant business community as different waves of people have settled there, said the woman leading one of the tours.

“The immigrants are from different countries now,” said Tricia Vita. “But they’re really continuing the tradition.”

The Immigrant Heritage Walking Tours will take place on April 21, with one tour in English and one in Mandarin, in order to attract members of Coney Island’s large Chinese-speaking population.

The tours are sponsored by the Coney Island History Project, and will kick off from its location near the Boardwalk, traveling to some of Coney Island’s most iconic landmarks. The list includes Nathan’s Famous, founded by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker in 1916; the B&B Carousell, constructed by Russian and German immigrants in 1906; and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, built around the original Wonder Wheel by Greek immigrant Denos D. Vourderis in the 1980s.

Few realize that the Famous hot dog stand and other Coney Island staples were started by immigrants, said Vita.

“Nowadays, people don’t realize that the people who started these businesses, which are still there, were immigrants,” she said.

Newcomers to the United States are a crucial part of the neighborhood’s past, said the founder of the project.

“During the first wave of immigration more than a century ago, Coney Island’s beach and fresh ocean air provided immigrant families an escape from steaming tenements,” said History Project founder Charles Denson. “It was a place to shed the constrictions of the old world.”

The tour also aims to boost newer immigrant-owned businesses, passing on info about the nearby Kebab Garden on Stillwell Avenue and the Mermaid Spa on Mermaid Avenue, which are owned by Turkish and Ukrainian immigrants, respectively. The stories of the owners have also been featured in the Coney Island History Project’s oral history archives.

“Immigrant Heritage Tour of Coney Island” at Coney Island History Project (3059 W. 12th St. between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk in Coney Island, (347) 702–8553, www.coneyislandhistory.org). April 21 at noon (in English), and 3 pm (in Mandarin). Free.

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at aluce[email protected]nglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.
Immigrant-run: The tour will also include Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, started by Denos D. Vourderis, pictured with his wife Lula in 1983.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park