January 27, 2021

At Summer’s End, 7 Shops Will Vanish From Coney Island’s Boardwalk

Robert Suh, the 29-year-old owner of Coney Island Souvenirs, stands behind a small rack of vintage postcards, quietly scooping ice cream for teenagers and tourists. When a man walks off without paying full price, Mr. Suh just lets him go. A fight for 50 cents is not worth it anymore.

For the Suh family, which has run Coney Island Souvenirs for 25 years, the dog days of summer are already here. They know that at the end of the season’s lease, their shop will be leaving the beach for good.

“They’re taking the store away; I hate them,” Mr. Suh’s mother, So Chung Suh, 67, said in between helping customers on a recent afternoon. “I’m sad, I’m angry.”

She added softly: “This is why I come to this country.”

But as one immigrant business is preparing for its inevitable end on the boardwalk, another is planning an expansion. Haim Haddad, 61, a Libyan Jew who fled with his family in 1967, settling in Italy and then Israel before coming to the United States in the 1980s, owns the bustling Coney Island Beach Shop on Stillwell Avenue with his daughter, Maya. It is a shop pulsating with beach kitsch, stocked floor to ceiling with mermaid T-shirts and tie-dyed sweatshirts, plastic rafts and bottle openers in the form of miniature flip-flops.

Next year, the Suhs will be gone, but a few steps down, the Haddads will be opening their third store. (They are opening their second one on Friday in the Stillwell Avenue subway station.)

“It’s all that we’ve worked for — to be on the Boardwalk, there’s nothing better than that,” Ms. Haddad, 29, said. “It’s got so much history; it’s different than anywhere in New York City.”

Steps from the clickety-clack of the aging Cyclone and within earshot of the new Sling Shot, the American Dream has met New York real estate reality.

The city, which owns 6.2 acres of Coney Island, was concentrating less on nostalgia and more on economics when it hired an Italian amusement park company to reinvigorate the flailing beach haven, which has undergone seemingly constant transformations over the past 130 years.

Last year, the company, Central Amusement International, reopened Luna Park, and this year, it added the Scream Zone, charging $7 to $20 for stomach-lurching attractions like the Sling Shot and the Steeplechase.

The company, which said it had invested over $25 million already, has been eager to upgrade the boardwalk to make it more family-oriented, said Valerio Ferrari, the president. So it has been moving away from earnest but unassuming beach bric-a-brac stores like the Suhs’ shop, legendary bar hangouts like Ruby’s, and food stands like Gyro Corner that sell cholesterol-laden pizza, gyros and funnel cake.

“We will never make Disney here,” Mr. Ferrari said. “But it will be something more …” — he searched for the words — “refined, cleaner. A little more year-round, if it’s possible, with sit-down restaurants and sports bars.”

Mr. Ferrari was blunt about why he did not renew leases for the Suhs and six other longtime businesses. “We don’t have the same vision,” he said. “They like the way it is, and we don’t.”

All the store owners on the boardwalk submitted nine-year plans for the reinvention of their businesses. Mr. Ferrari chose to keep only Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and the tiny pink boutique store, Lola Star, which sells novelty items and other Coney souvenirs.

“She can easily fit into our vision,” Mr. Ferrari said.

Dianna Carlin, 36, the owner of Lola Star, said that just for being chosen, she received dirty looks and cold shoulders from the other shop owners. Although Lola Star gets to stay, it will have to compete with a similar shop next door — that of the Haddads.

Ms. Haddad, a graduate of Baruch College who previously worked at Macy’s and Banana Republic and is on the local Community Board 13, submitted a splashy, intricate 60-page plan for what she will call the Brooklyn Beach Shop. She intends to sell originally designed apparel as well as the requisite beach items.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=af57e8480fc6dc45ab894e5ce97b8c52

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