Brooklyn Currents | 7/10/2013 | 0 comments

Brooklyn Currents Associate Editor 

When the Coney Island amusement district heralded the summer season, the Grand Opening Day was a far cry from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in the fall. A cool breeze mingled with sunshine. Smiles and laughter filled the boardwalk, and all sorts of colorful characters jogged, walked their dogs, enjoyed Nathan's hotdogs and just enjoyed the fresh beach air and a blue sky that left Sandy as a distant memory. Luna Park, Deno's Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone roller coaster and El Dorado bumper cars all opened for business after Sandy had hurled five feet of water from the Atlantic into the district.

Over the July Fourth weekend, Nathan's on the boardwalk, open since March 18, and the Stillwell Avenue location, open since the Memorial Day weekend, hosted more visitors than ever before, company officials said, adding that Sandy had done what the Great Depression and two world wars didn't do – close the Stillwell Avenue location; it was the first time in 96 years that the store was shut down.

At least one employee was glad to be back – Carlos Rivera, a 20-something father of a young daughter and a new baby girl, and was working at Nathan's the weekend that Sandy came ashore. He's worked there for the last five years and although winter is slow, he still works part-time. Two days after the storm, Nathan's employees were told to come in to help clean up the storm damage, but when management decided the damage was so extensive the only option would be to rebuild the entire restaurant, employees were sent home indefinitely.

Rivera suddenly found himself unemployed. He applied for unemployment compensation, and received a bonus check for Sandy relief from the Nathan's employee union, as did many other union workers. He made it through one of the coldest winters in recent memory until the restaurant reopened fat the end of May.

"I stayed at home and focused on my music, tried to write some songs on the guitar, Rivera said. "I spent lots of time with my kids and my new daughter. Besides that, I'm glad to be back at work. There's nothing like coming back to work every night. You get a little lazy when you're home for eight months waiting to be called back to work"

He's now looking forward forward to a planned raise and a trip to Puerto Rico, both of which were postponed by Sandy.

"Coney Island is America's original amusement center and park. It set the trends. And it really is a great place for families to visit – it's funky and in your face and exactly what Brooklyn is."

Borough President Marty Markowitz in an ESPN interview on the 4th of July


Sandy also couldn't stop the 25th annual "Blessing of the Rides" and the traditional free ride on Deno's Wonder Wheel to some 300 children.

"We have something here that shows the resilience of New York," Senator Charles Schumer said on Opening Day. "Anybody who doubted that New York wouldn't come back bigger and better and stronger after Sandy --- well, those doubts have been erased today with the great re-opening of Deno's and Luna Park. Coney Island has been an icon of New York and America for over 100 years, and it symbolizes so much. The words Coney Island are known not just in Brooklyn, not just in New York, not just the U.S., but around the world. So when Coney Island reopens, we know all of New York is open for business in every way."

Schumer thanked those in the crowd who had volunteered to clean up Coney Island after the storm, and took the occasion to announce that that Congress had authorized $60 billion for Sandy relief aid to New York and New Jersey. "It was a bipartisan" effort, he added.

Opening Day was not all cheers and optimism, however. Schumer, Borough President Marty Markowitz, and the other dignitaries were met by protesters, with a handful of police standing between the elected officials and the protesters.

Todd Dirbin of The People's Coalition of Coney Island, a group of local residents seeking to improve living conditions in Coney Island, complained that leaders were sending the wrong message. Some senior centers, community centers, day care centers, churches and libraries were still closed, Dirbin stressed, and banks and post offices still had limited services. Adding to the problems, was that many buildings were still running on generators and unreliable electric heating and elevator services. The Coalition called on businesses and developers – who they said "reap large profits" from Coney Island – to support anti-violence campaigns, educational and job training initiatives, and programming for youth and seniors.

Since Opening Day, most services have been restored.

Also protesting on the day was a group worried about the environmental hazards another large hurricane could bring. The Sandy Task-force Recovery Organized by Neighborhood Groups, or S.T.R.O.N.G., brought a court challenge to the city's attempt to build a garbage transfer station in Gravesend Bay, at Bay 41 Street, the site of the former Southwest Brooklyn incinerator. To build the station the City would have to dredge up the dirt at the bottom of the bay, spewing toxic ashen materials including mercury, arsenic and a pesticide banned in 1976 called Mirax. If these chemicals are disturbed they risk being air borne and could cause asthma and cancer or contaminate people's homes during another massive flood, STRONG argued.

The court recently sided with the City, and the construction of garbage transfer station is scheduled to continue as planned.
Now, some eight months after Sandy, the building housing the arts organization, Coney Island USA has been repaired and renovated – the $400,000 in damages on the landmark building that Sandy wreaked accelerated a million-dollar renovation that was slated to take place over a five-year period. The Coney Island Museum is still closed for renovations, but it is expected to open by September. Visitors, though, can still see the traditional sideshow acts featuring magicians, fire-eaters, sword swallowers and all the rest of the freak show cast that has been a staple of Coney entertainment for more than a century.

The New York Aquarium was hit with $65 million worth of damages – surprisingly, only a few of the marine life died. The Aquarium, partially reopened in the spring and is now fully open to the public.

The Seaside Summer Concerts Series at West 21st Street and Surf Avenue, next to MCU Park, begin July 12 with Cheap Trick; other musical guests this summer include The Go-Go's, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Huey Lewis and The News, and Chicago.
And don't forget to bring your beach chairs and blankets every Monday night for the free Coney Island Flicks on the Beach, right in front of Deno's Amusement Park. Scheduled features The Hunger Games, Men in Black ll – which is partly set in1960s Coney Island – and The Avengers.

Several new places to shop have opened this year. The Brooklyn Nets store, featuring all the merchandise from Brooklyn's new basketball team, has premiered across from the Stillwell Avenue Nathan's. Also across from Nathan's is IT'S SUGAR. IT'S SUGAR, a large chic candy store with all sorts of colorful candy and bright candy-colored clothing, and merchandise to match

If you want something to read on the beach, a couple of doors down, Brooklyn Rock just opened. It's a smaller store dedicated to pop culture with books, t-shirts (including one sporting the face of Brooklyn native Larry David, co-creator of the '90s sitcom Seinfeld), and other paraphernalia.

After the wrath of Sandy, Coney Island is bigger and better, and the publicity it received from the storm has attracted more visitors than ever before, official;s say.

Eddie Mark with Community Board 13 says there isn't very much flood-proofing that can be done to an open amusement area right at the seashore, especially against rare storms of Sandy's magnitude.

"Hopefully we won't see one for another 500 years," he said. "We had floods back in the '90s when we had the Nor'easter. We had about 12 to 18 inches of water and it flooded here. But it wasn't as bad as the four feet of water we had this October."
Even though "The People's Playground" is back, the billions of dollars in aid and all the political will could not hold back a power at least as strong as Sandy – inflation.

Nathan's hotdogs rose this year from $3.75 to $3.95. 

Related links:
The iconic Parachute Jump adorned for the Fourth of July
                                                       ( photo)
ParachuteJump by BrooklynCurrents 



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